Lawyer says she didn't act alone

In Moussaoui case, government's Martin is accused of tampering with witnesses

March 17, 2006|By RICHARD A. SERRANO | RICHARD A. SERRANO,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Embattled government attorney Carla J. Martin suggested yesterday that she did not act alone in any tampering with government witnesses in the sentencing trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.

Martin, speaking for the first time through a statement by her attorney, did not address the accusation by prosecutors and the presiding judge in the case that she violated a court order by aggressively coaching government aviation officials about how to testify in the trial.

Her Washington lawyer, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., said that when the time comes to explain her actions, "her response will show a very different, full picture of her intentions, her conduct and her tireless dedication to a fair trial."

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration said Martin, 51, has been placed on paid administrative leave until her legal situation is resolved.

Charges possible

She could face civil or criminal contempt charges for providing trial transcripts to prospective witnesses in Moussaoui's trial, criticizing the prosecutors' opening statements and aggressively coaching them in violation of a court order.

The disclosure of her actions Monday prompted the judge to ban all aviation testimony from the trial, all but ruining the prosecution's case. The trial is being held to determine whether Moussaoui, who was in jail at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but has pleaded guilty to conspiring with the hijackers, should receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison.

Howard, in his statement yesterday, said his client had been "viciously vilified" by prosecutors who "had asserted that she had acted entirely alone."

Prosecutors, seeking to distance themselves from Martin's actions, castigated her as a "lone miscreant" and said she acted "essentially as outside counsel" in coaching the witnesses.

Moussaoui's defense lawyers, in legal papers filed Thursday, said Martin had worked closely with prosecutors.

"The government attempts to minimize Ms. Martin's involvement in this case, reducing her to virtually the status of a messenger," they told the judge. "It is worth noting that Ms. Martin, at least, has worked on the prosecutorial team itself, as well as with the aviation witnesses."

Ruling disputed

Federal prosecutors have urged U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to reverse or narrow her order banning aviation-related testimony. They argued that the six Federal Aviation Administration witnesses coached by Martin were the heart of the government's case, which is that the government could have prevented the attacks if Moussaoui had cooperated with the FBI.

Defense lawyers urged the judge yesterday to keep her order in force, arguing that the government's position in the Moussaoui case is the opposite of its position in a lawsuit by Sept. 11 victims against United and American airlines.

In that case, the Transportation Security Administration, Martin's employer, has intervened on the airlines' behalf and has maintained that the airlines should not be held responsible because the 19 hijackers made it through airport security and onto four planes the morning of the attacks.

Moussaoui's lawyers said that contradicts the government's assertion in the Moussaoui case that the government could have prevented the impending attacks had Moussaoui told the FBI about them.

"These developments cast doubt on the impartiality of TSA," the lawyers said.

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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