- Lester Munson, Legal Analyst
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The mistress with a past, and the pit bull with a law degree battled for nearly four hours on Monday in front of the Barry Bonds trial jury in San Francisco, and the mistress came out ahead.
Kimberly Bell managed to fight off aggressive and occasionally angry questioning by Bonds' attorney, Cristina Arguedas, as Bell told the jury of eight women and four men of her nine-year romance with Bonds and his admissions to her that he used steroids. She also said Bonds had claimed steroids caused his serious elbow injury in 1999.
There is no doubt that Arguedas, one of San Francisco's top trial lawyers, did some serious damage to Bell's credibility and veracity, but there's also no doubt that Bell turned many of Arguedas' hostile questions into opportunities to add to her story.
When Arguedas scornfully asked Bell about her "position" as a "road trip girlfriend," and listed various cities that Bell had visited with Bonds and the Giants, it worked briefly. But then Arguedas mentioned Houston. "That was where Barry abandoned me on 9/11," Bell replied, explaining that Bonds left town on the team plane during the emergency and told her to "find my own way home." She was forced to drive back to San Francisco.
In an attempt to answer Bell's assertion that Bonds' sexual performance deteriorated while he was taking steroids, Arguedas used a Bell email to show that Bonds was involved with "an ugly whore in Las Vegas, a stripper in Phoenix" and other women.
"And you call that sexual dysfunction?" attorney Arguedas said to Bell in a tone dripping with incredulity and scorn. It is not clear how adding more women to Bonds' world endears himself to the jury.
Arguedas spent a large portion of her cross examination confronting Bell with documents she signed to obtain a mortgage on a house that Bonds offered to purchase for her. Arguedas tried to show that Bell had lied to the mortgage lender when she signed a stack of documents in the mortgage process. In four of the documents, the loan was described as a loan for a second home. Bell replied patiently and repeatedly that the mortgage broker had completed the forms and suggested in a quiet, firm voice that Arguedas was "reaching for an oversight here."
Bell obtained the mortgage as the real estate bubble was growing and mortgage brokers were offering mortgages to people with neither jobs nor cash. Arguedas may have scored a few points with this line of cross examination, but the jury was growing restive as the lawyers persisted stubbornly, handing Bell document after document. Anyone who has done a mortgage or a refinancing in the past decade knows that multiple forms are signed quickly and without much study of their contents.
The entire subject of the purchase of the house offered jurors another picture of Bonds that may come back to haunt him. Bell insisted that Bonds had promised to buy the house for her. When she asked him to pay the mortgage of only $140,000, he refused. After Bonds dumped her in May 2003, Bell hired a lawyer to try to obtain the promised funds from Bonds. Bonds responded with an offer of $20,000 and demanded a confidentiality clause that would have prevented Bell from ever discussing the romance in court or anywhere else.
While she spent nearly an hour on the mortgage issue, Arguedas never asked a single question about Bell's testimony that Bonds told her that his 1999 elbow injury was "caused by steroids." In his testimony to the grand jury in December 2004, his response when asked whether he had used steroids was "not that I know of."
If the jury believes what Bell said about the role of steroids in the elbow injury (it is uncontradicted at this point in the trial), it is going to be difficult for the Bonds legal team to persuade the jury that he did not know that he was using steroid drugs.
Arguedas also confronted Bell about her efforts to sell a book. Bell described a series of agents and ghostwriters who were supposedly helping her with the project. She quickly found herself in a vortex of media manipulation with agents telling her she must write about steroids and baseball. She insisted in response to Arguedas' questions that she wanted to write a book about mistakes that women make. Her title for her book would have been "Giant Mistake," while the agents' titles would have been "Bonds Girl" or "In the Shadow of a Giant."
The entire project fizzled and died in acrimony, and the issue may have fizzled with the jurors as well.
By the end of her cross examination, attorney Arguedas was curiously righteous and surprisingly indignant. Even though Judge Susan Illston had earlier admonished Arguedas in front the jury and asked her to show some "respect for the witness," Arguedas was waving her arms and yelling at Bell in the final moments of Bell's testimony.
When Arguedas walked to the witness stand with a document for Bell to examine, Bell would extend her hand to accept it. Instead of handing her the document, Arguedas would slap it down on the witness table and stalk off to the microphone to ask another question. Did the jurors notice Arguedas' scornful treatment of Bell? Bell was sitting less than 10 feet from the jury box.
Will this level of hostility work for Bonds? Will the jury decide it was an oversight on a series of mortgage forms made by a young person buying her first house, or, as Arguedas suggested, a crime that should be prosecuted by the same prosecutors who are presenting the evidence against Bonds? If every consumer's mistake on a mortgage application became a criminal charge in the federal courts, the U.S. Department of Justice would grow to the size of the Defense Department.
When Bonds dumped Bell during a telephone call, he told her to "disappear." That was it. The couple never spoke to each other again. Arguedas tried to make Bell disappear with her cross examination. But it didn't work for Bonds (Bell brought her story to the prosecutors), and it may not work for Arguedas. Bell's story of obvious side effects from steroids (acne, bloating, testicular atrophy) and her account of the role of steroids in the elbow injury remain a major weapon in the government's effort convict Bonds.
Put this one in the win column for the mistress.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.