Investigations, Lawsuits Still Dogging 9/11 Lawyer
Monday, July 10, 2006
Carla J. Martin's moment of infamy ended nearly as quickly as it began.
An obscure government lawyer, she had been a minor player in the most major of cases: the death penalty trial of Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. But that all changed in an instant, when she violated a court order by sharing testimony with witnesses and coaching them about what to say.
Suddenly, the former flight attendant rocketed across TV screens and newspaper front pages, cast as the villain whose misconduct nearly derailed the prosecution's case. Berated by a federal judge, Martin, 51, walked out of an Alexandria courtroom with her head down -- and back into anonymity.
But even as her public profile has diminished, Martin's actions have spawned a wave of legal proceedings. Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia are exploring the possibility of criminal charges against her, and Pennsylvania's lawyer disciplinary board has begun an investigation, according to court documents and sources familiar with the case. Martin remains on paid leave from the Transportation Security Administration, which is also investigating her conduct. And seven family members of Sept. 11 victims have filed suit against her in the District.
The woman at the center of the storm is emotionally distraught, crying when she talks about the criminal investigation and feeling like a prisoner in her own apartment, Martin's mother said last week.
"She's not doing very well. It's terrible, devastating for her," said Jean Martin Lay, who believes that her daughter did nothing wrong. "She doesn't do much of anything but stay at home, as far as I know."
Martin declined to comment through her attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., who said: "She is doing probably as well as can be expected for somebody who is trying to see what her fate will be. We're just waiting to see how the government decides to proceed."
A longtime government aviation lawyer, Martin had been a liaison between the Moussaoui prosecutors and witnesses expected to testify about airport security. Although those witnesses were crucial to the government's argument that Moussaoui deserved to die for his role in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, prosecutors said Martin's role was limited. She was merely a legal conduit who located files and arranged witness interviews and was never to be involved with legal strategy or litigating the case, they said.
Yet for reasons that remain a mystery, Martin e-mailed trial transcripts to seven witnesses and coached them on their testimony. In Alexandria, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema had ruled that most witnesses could not attend or follow the trial and could not read transcripts to prevent them from altering their testimony to conform to what others had said.
An angry Brinkema halted the trial only a week after it had begun in March and accused Martin of "egregious errors" that undermined Moussaoui's constitutional rights. After an extraordinary hearing at which an agitated Martin declined to testify, the judge barred all seven witnesses from testifying -- effectively gutting the prosecution's argument for the execution of the only person convicted in an American courtroom in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Brinkema later allowed prosecutors to find new aviation witnesses not tainted by contact with Martin, and the trial resumed. Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison in May. By that time, the criminal investigation of Martin was well underway, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, which prosecuted Moussaoui, has recused itself from the investigation, which is being led by a Philadelphia-based assistant U.S. attorney and two FBI agents.
Members of the Moussaoui prosecution team have been interviewed about their dealings with Martin, along with some of her Transportation Security Administration colleagues, according to law enforcement sources and lawyers familiar with the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing.
Prosecutors have indicated to Martin's attorneys that criminal charges are possible, sources said, but it remains unclear whether they would be filed in court. Among the charges being considered, sources said, is lying to a federal officer, a felony. Prosecutors have been questioning witnesses about an incident in which a member of the Moussaoui prosecution team, David J. Novak, sent a letter to Moussaoui's attorneys saying that aviation industry witnesses they were seeking would not meet with them.
After hearing testimony in March, Brinkema called the letter a "bald-faced lie." It was based on information from Martin, prosecutors said.
Martin has also been warned by Brinkema that she could be held in criminal or civil contempt of court for violating the court order. Either the judge or the Justice Department can initiate a criminal contempt investigation, but any such proceeding is considered unlikely before the criminal investigation is completed.
Martin has met with the Philadelphia prosecutors at least once to answer questions and has turned over documents and her laptop computer, according to court documents and lawyers familiar with the case. Martin's attorneys are trying to persuade the government not to file charges, sources said, and part of their strategy is to blame the Moussaoui criminal prosecutors for not telling Martin about the court order barring contact with witnesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary E. Crawley, who is leading the criminal investigation, said that because of the probe, "it would be inappropriate for me to say anything about that matter at this time." She declined to comment further.
Yolanda L. Clark, a spokeswoman for TSA, said that agency's investigation of Martin's conduct "is awaiting the conclusion of the criminal inquiry." Martin was a career Federal Aviation Administration lawyer who moved to the new TSA in 2002, largely because of her work on the case of the 1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The salary for her job title at TSA, an attorney adviser, is as much as $120,000.
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, through which Martin holds her law license, has also begun an investigation of Martin, according to law enforcement sources and a D.C. lawyer who filed an ethics complaint with the board about Martin's conduct in the Moussaoui case. The lawyer would not allow his name to be used, but he provided a copy of the complaint to The Washington Post. He said the board wrote him a letter saying his complaint was dismissed because the board had already initiated an investigation of Martin.
An official with the board did not return telephone calls.
Martin's attorneys have asked a federal judge in the District not to proceed with the civil suits against her until the criminal probe is completed. The suits, filed in U.S. District Court by seven people who lost relatives Sept. 11, argue that Martin "illegally coached witnesses and otherwise attempted to shade and alter evidence before the Moussaoui court" to help her "friends" in the airline industry avoid civil liability.
The seven Sept. 11 family members are among plaintiffs who have sued American Airlines, United Airlines and other defendants, alleging that they failed to prevent the attacks. Martin had been playing a role for TSA in that civil lawsuit that was similar to her role in the Moussaoui criminal case.
At a March court hearing in Alexandria, Brinkema speculated that Martin could have provided the testimony to the witnesses in the Moussaoui case out of "loyalty to the aviation industry." But the judge acknowledged that she didn't know what motivated Martin's actions and that they could have resulted from "overzealousness.''