WASHINGTON - The government lawyer who improperly contacted witnesses, dealing a blow to the US case against September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, has been put on administrative leave.
Officials from the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security said Carla Martin, 51, was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday. They did not say what disciplinary measures, if any, might be taken.
The move was taken after the discovery that Martin, a TSA lawyer who served as the liaison with federal prosecutors and the Federal Aviation Administration for the Moussaoui trial, had violated a court order and damaged the case.
Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda member who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, is on trial to see if he will be executed.
Martin emailed transcripts of the trial's opening arguments to aviation witnesses who were to testify for both the government and the defence. She also attempted to coach some of the witnesses about their testimony.
She also told one of the witnesses, who had been called to testify for the defence, not to talk to Moussaoui's lawyers before the trial.
Due to Martin's actions, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema on Tuesday threw out all aviation-related testimony and evidence -- about half of the government's case against Moussaoui. She also warned Martin she might be held in civil or criminal contempt.
Martin's lawyer, former US Attorney Roscoe Howard, issued a statement saying his client had been "viciously vilified" and that she must have the chance to give her side of the story.
"When her opportunity comes, her response will show a very different, full picture of her intentions, her conduct and her tireless dedication to a fair trial," Howard said.
Martin, a former flight attendant, is a veteran aviation attorney who often dealt with aviation security issues.
In court papers to petition Brinkema to reconsider her decision, federal prosecutors said Martin's actions were criminal but the actions of one person should not jeopardize the case.
"For over four years, scores of government agents and attorneys ... have interviewed thousands of witnesses and assembled millions of documents," prosecutors wrote. "In this sea of government attorneys and agents who have assiduously played by the rules, Ms. Martin stands as the lone miscreant."
"Her aberrant and apparently criminal behaviour should not be the basis for undoing the good work of so many."
The sentencing trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.