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Moussaoui Death Penalty Case - Was it Sabotaged?

Allegations are being made that attorneys representing airlines being sued by 9/11 victims' families prompted Carla Martin, TSA attorney, to coach government witnesses in the Moussaoui death penalty case, a clear violation of Judge Leonie Brinkema's court rules, in an effort to help United and American Airlines in their civil case:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawyers for two airlines being sued for damages by 9/11 victims prompted a federal lawyer to coach witnesses in the trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui so the government's death penalty case would not undercut their defense, victims' lawyers allege.

The victims' lawyers, Robert Clifford and Gregory Joseph, claim that one of the airline lawyers forwarded a transcript from the first day of the Moussaoui trial to Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin.

In violation of an order by Moussaoui trial judge Leonie Brinkema, Martin forwarded that day's transcript to seven federal aviation officials scheduled to testify later in the sentencing trial of the 37-year-old Frenchman.

Martin's e-mailing of the transcript and her efforts to shape their testimony prompted Brinkema to toss out half the government's case against Moussaoui as contaminated beyond repair...

...The contacts between lawyers for United and American Airlines and Martin were detailed in a legal brief filed on Moussaoui's behalf Thursday. That brief contained a March 15 letter from Clifford and Joseph complaining about Martin's actions to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is presiding over the civil damage case in New York.

They wrote Hellerstein that the government's opening statement in the Moussaoui case "took the position that the hijackings were completely preventable and that gate security measures could have been implemented to prevent the 9/11 hijackers from boarding the planes had security been on the look out for short-bladed knives and boxcutters."

"This stands in stark contrast to the position that has been repeatedly articulated by counsel to the aviation defendants in the September 11 actions."

Because that government position could have "devastating" impact on the airlines' defense in the civil suit, American Airlines' lawyer forwarded the transcript to a United Airlines lawyer who forwarded it to Martin, Clifford and Joseph wrote. As proof, they cited March 7 e-mails that they provided to Hellerstein but which were not immediately available here.

"The TSA lawyer then forwarded the transcripts and sent multiple e-mails to government witnesses in a clear effort to shape their testimony in a manner that would be beneficial to the aviation defendants" in the civil suit, they wrote.

Here's part of the e-mail Martin sent to one of the government's witnesses:

"My friends Jeff Ellis and Chris Christenson, NY lawyers rep. UAL and AAL respectively in the 9/11 civil litigation, all of us aviation lawyers, were stunned by the opening. The opening has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a truck through. There is no way anyone could say that the carriers could have prevented all short-bladed knives from going through. (Prosecutor) Dave (Novak) MUST elicit that from you and the airline witnesses on direct"

Big Lizards weighs in:

Yet even so, when she was caught red-handed, Judge Brinkema's response was to finish what Carla Martin started: Brinkema's order destroys the government's case, prevents Moussaoui from receiving the death penalty, and incidentally helps the airlines defend against the lawsuit. At least, that is what the plaintiffs' attorneys claim.

Through her attorney, Martin denies the allegation; but she has not yet appeared to speak on her own behalf, nor has her attorney yet had a chance to formulate a response. The first question, of course, is whether there was any pre-existing relationship between the airlines and the TSA, or some personal or monetary arrangement between their respective attorneys, which was so deep that Martin would risk disbarment or even prison (for witness tampering), just to help the airlines out in their civil lawsuit. If such a connection emerges, then clearly, Brinkema's order should not stand.

In fact, if this is true, then there should be a mistrial: the penalty phase for Moussaoui should be moved to a different judge (preferably in a different venue) and retried... because clearly, the people of the United States were sandbagged, if this allegation is even partially accurate.

I'm sure the airlines' lawyers weren't working for the purpose of getting Moussaoui out of the death penalty; however, their overly zealous defense of their clients could very well lead to this result. It's really ironic that the lawyers for the airlines that were devastated by the hijackers' attacks may end up saving Moussaoui's life.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Moussaoui Death Penalty Case - Was it Sabotaged?:

» Below The Beltway linked with The Rest Of The Story

» Sister Toldjah linked with Witneess tampering in Moussaoui case?

» Church and State linked with Moussaoui Case Fumbled Again

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with U.S. Tries To Salvage Moussaoui Case

» The Glittering Eye linked with Catching my eye: morning A through Z

Comments (6)

How is the approach allegat... (Below threshold)

How is the approach allegated not legal malpractice? This is not rhetorical; I'm asking a real question. Lawyers, weigh in please.

"The first thing we do, let... (Below threshold)

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers". - Henry VI (Act IV, Scene II).

As to the legal malpractice, I suspect that the UAL and AA lawyers did was not malpractice unless the solicited the tampering. Then I think it wouldn't be malpractice, but a crime unrelated to their being lawyers. The TSA lawyer sending an email asking potential witnesses to re-shape their testimony is both malpractice and a crime.

Malpractice cases can only ... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Malpractice cases can only be brought by an attorney's clients, and only when the attorney's conduct fell below the standard of practice in the community, and that breach harms the clients. Therefore, the airline attorneys are probably very secure from attack by their own clients.

Could they be criminally prosecuted for obstruction of justice? Maybe, but we need more facts. Similarly, they could be reported to their bar association for investigation if warranted by the facts.

Here, all we've heard is that the airline attorneys were justifiably peaved by the government's strategy because (1) it seemed disingenuously optimistic, and (2) it would devastate the airlines' defense. I haven't seen any emails from airline attorneys, so I don't know what was said. But there's nothing wrong with working to align legal strategies for the benefit of all.

As for Martin's actions, I'm not sure what her role is in relation to the federal prosecutors. Nor am I clear on the TSA's relationship to the airlines. Therefore, I don't know if she harmed her client and wouldl be vulnerable on the malpractice front. However, it seems she clearly violated a court order and could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. She should also be investigated by the state bar (or DC Bar) for disciplinary action or disbarrment.

One more thing: Coaching your own witnesses is done every day, and lawyers have the legal duty to do so. Reminding the witnesses to truthfully testify their belief that the airlines could not have caught all small blades is not improper--in fact it's necessary to preserve the airlines' civil lawsuit defense. This is not "witness tampering."

What was improper, was the sharing of the trial transcript in violation of the court order. That was bad. Very bad. The lawyers could have easlily accomplished their objectives legally, without disseminating the transcripts.

Well put SA. Here, here.</... (Below threshold)

Well put SA. Here, here.

Starboard Attitude is right... (Below threshold)

Starboard Attitude is right about the "witness tampering" versus "witness preparing" distinction. Also, keep in mind that the Judge's order that no witness see any of the trial transcripts is not standard. In fact, I have never seen one before (although in fairness my criminal trial experience is mostly in the days before transcripts were immediately available). So if Martin didn't know about the Judge's order, she would have no way of knowing that she was doing anything wrong by distributing the transcripts.

Carla Martin was part of t... (Below threshold)
James C:

Carla Martin was part of the team that worked an the Lockerbie air disaster case and she was instrumental in prosecuting Richard Reid,aka the Shoe Bomber. What is most likely is that "the rest of the story" will come out when Ms. Martin tells her side . You have to wonder that given Ms. Martins' previous involvement in high profile FAA cases, that she may be "sacrificial" to cover someone else. If she was not thought origially qualified, I doubt that she would have been on this rather significant case.






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