Jeffrey White was feeling pedagogical when his sentencing calendar came up Thursday afternoon.
First, the U.S. district judge ordered an admitted methamphetamine salesman to 255 months in prison -- more than prosecutors requested -- because "the word has to get out to these people that if you're going to continue to traffic in these drugs, you're going to pay the price."
Then came Philip Lum, the former Colma, Calif., mayor who had pleaded guilty to failing to report free trips from a person with business in front of the City Council. After grilling Lum hard on why he was pleading guilty, White agreed to accept the 18-month sentence prosecutors recommended.
"Politicians and people in a position of trust have to know that if they do these things, they're going to go to jail," White said.
But the biggest lesson the judge had Thursday was for Troy Ellerman, the lawyer who leaked grand jury transcripts from athletes testifying in the BALCO steroids probe, and got a 30-month sentence as his reward.
Last month, the judge refused to accept Ellerman's plea deal because he felt the sentencing range of 15 to 24 months was too lenient. So White -- a rules-conscious jurist who in the past has forced lawyers to buy and disseminate transcripts of his courtroom jeremiad on proper procedures -- was thinking hard about the new agreement.
Irked that as the lawyer for one of BALCO's co-founders, Ellerman had not only leaked the transcripts, but had repeatedly lied about it orally and in sworn court statements, White said he seriously considered sending the lawyer to jail for a longer time than federal sentencing guidelines recommended.
But relatively early in Thursday's hearing, White said he was planning to approve the deal. First, though, he had several issues to wrestle with, the first being President Bush's recent commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's obstruction of justice sentence.
In recent court filings, Ellerman's lawyer, Scott Tedmon of Sacramento, had pointed to the commutation as a signpost for White to follow. Bush -- who appointed White to the Northern District of California bench -- had said Libby's sentence, which fell below the guidelines' maximum, was unfairly long.
But White didn't want to follow the president's lead. "Under President Bush's reasoning, any white-collar criminal should receive little or no time," White said.
He was also rankled by Tedmon's tendency to refer to him as "sir."
"I appreciate being addressed as 'your Honor,'" he said.
However, White did seem swayed by Ellerman's emotional speech. "Judge, your Honor, I'm sorry," he said. Ellerman apologized to the prosecutors he had accused of leaking the transcripts, and also told the judge that he wasn't using his cocaine and alcohol problems as an excuse for his behavior.
"I lived an unexamined life," Ellerman said, adding that he got caught up in an initial lie when he signed a court brief denying the leak, and was too "morally bankrupt" to come forward.
"There is no good explanation," he added. "I lied."
Ellerman ended up admitting his actions to FBI agents last year, after his former private investigator turned him in. At the time, Ellerman had left the practice of law and was serving as director of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in Colorado.
After Ellerman's mea culpa, White sentenced him to 30 months in prison -- three months less than the guideline maximum -- and, in lieu of a fine, required him to make speeches at 10 law schools to warn students against violating court rules.
"The word has to go out to attorneys out there," White said. "If you're not honest, if you don't play by the rules, you're going to pay the price."