David Kravets and Paul Elias
He may be as self-assured as his client, and Barry Bonds’ attorney is no stranger to big cases.
The former U.S. Marine and police officer ridiculed the government’s steroids investigation last week, saying prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to indict a ham sandwich, let alone Barry Bonds. He has accused U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan and his deputies of engaging in an obsessive witch hunt.
“I’ve never deviated,” Michael Rains said, “from the amount of contempt for them, by the way they’ve treated Barry.”
Known for his aggressive legal tactics, Rains, 56, regularly defends police officers accused of misconduct.
“If you’re a police officer, I think Mike Rains is the guy you want representing you,” said John Burris, an Oakland attorney who sues police officers for brutality and has tangled with Rains in court.
In Bonds, one of professional baseball’s greatest sluggers, he has found his highest profile client.
Prosecutors think the San Francisco Giants outfielder may have lied under oath when he told an earlier grand jury he never knowingly took performance enhancing drugs. They’re also looking into whether Bonds failed to pay taxes on proceeds from the sale of Barry Bonds memorabilia. One grand jury’s term expired last week without issuing an indictment, but prosecutors quickly convened a new panel that began interviewing witnesses on Thursday.
Rains says he landed Bonds as a client through a mutual acquaintance, Dan Molieri, a boyhood friend of Bonds and a former South San Francisco police officer.
Most of Rains’ work defending police officers has been in California trial courts. But Bonds’ case, should he be indicted, would be handled by the federal court system.
Two people close to Giants Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer say he has urged Bonds to get additional legal counsel. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of the investigation. Baer did not respond to attempts for comment.
Rains said anyone who thinks he’s unfit to represent Bonds is just envious.
“They just think they should be representing him,” Rains said.
In fact, he scored one of his biggest professional wins in a Fresno federal court when he and other attorneys won an acquittal in the high-profile prosecution of eight Corcoran State Prison guards accused of staging gladiator-style fights between inmates of different races in 1994. The trial was the subject of intense media scrutiny, including coverage by CBS’ “60 Minutes” newsmagazine.
“It took me one day to dismantle the entire government case. I have no fear of being in federal court,” Rains said.
Rains also defended Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, one of four Oakland Police officers dubbed “The Riders,” who were accused in 2000 of regularly beating and framing suspects and covering it up by falsifying police reports.
Three of the officers, including Mabanag, were tried twice. Both cases resulted in mistrials after jurors deadlocked in trials that were heavily covered by the media. Alameda County prosecutors decided against staging a third trial.
Terry Wiley, a 16-year veteran of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office who was Rains’ adversary in the second Riders trial, said Rains is a “versatile” attorney who can change his litigation strategy to fit the tenor of each trial.
“He can hold his own,” Wiley said. He added that Rains “is the best defense attorney I’ve seen.”
But such accolades aren’t universal and some adversaries criticize the Pleasant Hill attorney for being overzealous at times in defending his clients.
Earlier this year, Rains tried to use California’s unfair competition law to sue the San Francisco Chronicle and two of its reporters over the book “Game of Shadows,” which relied on leaked grand jury testimony to link Bonds to steroid use. Rains argued the authors should be blocked from making money on the book because the transcripts had been illegally obtained.
Rains dropped the suit after the Chronicle threatened to sue Bonds under a California statute allowing counterclaims against people deemed to be using the courts as a vehicle to suppress First Amendment rights of free speech, said Eve Burton, general counsel for the Hearst Corp., which publishes the Chronicle.
Rains says client advocacy is his top priority, whether he’s going after those accusing police officers of misconduct or federal authorities eyeing Bonds for alleged criminal activity.
He was a Santa Monica police officer when he won a scholarship to Golden West University School of Law in Los Angeles. He earned his degree in 1979 after attending night classes and carved out a career defending police officers, whom he says are treated unfairly by the legal system and department internal affairs bureaus.
“The danger to the police officer is not so much on the street, but when you go to the station,” Rains said. “It’s the politics of the city, it’s the politics of the department that create the real survival problems.”
Rains lives in suburban San Ramon, southeast of San Francisco, with his 8-year-old son Logan and wife Kathy, a former police officer.
“I went to night school,” he said. “I’ve earned everything I got. I win everything I touch.”