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.