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San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds waits for a video tribute by the Pittsburgh Pirates between games of a twi-night double header in Pittsburgh, Monday, Aug. 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
OAKLAND -- Home run king Barry Bonds is tired of people accusing him of using steroids or evading taxes and has hired two prominent attorneys to ensure those who make false statements about him are legally punished.

Oakland's John Burris and San Francisco's Todd Schneider announced Monday they will defend the slugger against false statements made by private citizens related to any illegal act someone might claim Bonds has admitted to.

"Barry is basically saying that he has been kicked around a lot and he is tired of being kicked around," Burris said. "Our issue is really about statements that are made that are attributed to him that are not true. Particularly, statements that someone might say he made about the use of steroids or tax evasion."

Bonds has been dogged by questions about possible steroid use since 2003, when the Internal Revenue Service raided the offices of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative and found that the business was distributing illegal steroids and human growth hormones to a host of professional athletes.

The suspicions grew more rampant last year when a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters claimed Bonds had used performance-enhancing drugs for at least five seasons, beginning in 1998.

Ever since, the slugger has been berated at opposing ballparks as he approached and then recently passed one of the most hallowed records in sports.

Burris and Schneider said Bonds wanted to break the home run record before he fought back against false statements that others claim he made.


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"While pursing Hank Aaron's home run record, Barry felt that it was more prudent to remain silent," the statement read. "Now that the record has been broken, Burris and Schneider will evaluate any and all statements attributed to him that are false."

Bonds began seeking civil rights representation three weeks ago after pitcher Curt Schilling criticized the slugger in an interview with HBO's Bob Costas.

"This is directed at Schilling more than anybody," said criminal defense attorney Michael Rains, who is representing Bonds in a grand jury investigation stemming from the BALCO case.

"Schilling said some things that were inappropriate and potentially defamatory. I know it was upsetting to Barry. We talked about the issue and I know he was talking to some civil lawyers to put people on notice that he has someone defending him," Rains said.

Despite the threats and the two-page statement, some legal experts said the move is more stunt than substance.

"It's not likely to have any legal weight," said Stephen Barnett, professor emeritus at the Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley. "For one thing, the statement has to be false. And since Bonds is a public figure, that statement would have to be knowingly or recklessly false."

Barnett said Bonds would have to prove in court that a statement made by someone is false, which could result in a trial about his steroid use, a situation Bonds might not want to endure.

However, Barnett said, the announcement and hiring of attorneys could scare some people into keeping their mouths shut.

"The statement they issued may have the desired effect of having some people watch their tongues," he said.

Burris was a prominent attorney in the Oakland "Riders" case, a class-action suit against the Oakland Police Department, and has represented Rodney King, rapper Tupac Shakur and pro athletes Keyshawn Johnson and Gary Payton.

He said the purpose of the announcement and his retention as Bonds' attorney is not to go after media publications or to curtail free speech and opinions against the controversial baseball player.

Instead, he said, it is to stop those who might think they know something about Bonds from telling a false story.

In his news release, Burris referred to Bonds' former girlfriend who made accusations in a Playboy article and a former business partner who supposedly told the FBI that Bonds had evaded taxes as examples of the kind of statements he would investigate.

"We are not interested in reporters, free press or freedom-of-speech rights," Burris said. "We are not going to go on a witch hunt."

However, Burris said, he and Schneider will investigate past statements and any statements made in the future.

It was Schilling who touched a nerve when the pitcher told Costas that Bonds' refusal to sue the authors of "Game of Shadows" was tantamount to admitting that the reporting in the book was accurate.

"If I wrote a book about Bob Costas and in that book I wrote about Bob Costas' girlfriend being on the road, and Bob Costas giving that girlfriend card show money and I outlined your daily steroid regimen, I've got to believe your first line of defense is to sue my (butt) off," Schilling said.

Bonds responded at the time that "my day will come."

MediaNews staff writer Andrew Baggarly contributed to this story.