March 15, 2006
Lawyer Thrust Into Spotlight After Misstep in Terror Case
By STEPHEN LABATON
and MATTHEW L. WALD
WASHINGTON, March 14 — In a city of lawyers, Carla J. Martin has become the
most talked-about lawyer in town.
Ms. Martin, an obscure official in the counsel's office at the
Transportation Security Administration, now appears to bear responsibility
for undercutting the government's long-running effort to execute the only
man tried in an American courtroom for involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Known among her peers as an aggressive, largely behind-the-scenes courtroom
strategist, she is said by the judge in the case to have committed a
potentially devastating blunder of the sort that law students are routinely
warned about: coaching witnesses.
Dealing a major setback to the government's prosecution of Zacarias
Moussaoui, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled on Tuesday that because of three
significant instances of misbehavior by government lawyers during the trial,
most notably the missteps by Ms. Martin, she was barring the prosecutors
from using any testimony or evidence from a handful of government aviation
Ms. Martin has declined to explain her actions in court or to reporters, and
Judge Brinkema said Ms. Martin's lawyer expected his client to invoke her
right against self-incrimination. But e-mail messages made public in the
Moussaoui case this week, along with accounts from colleagues and
supervisors, paint a picture of a lawyer who was often well regarded but
also had a reputation for sometimes pushing too hard.
Ms. Martin, 51, is a former flight attendant at World Airways, where she
often flew between the United States and Germany because she spoke German.
She began working at the Federal Aviation Administration before she
completed law school at American University's Washington College of Law in
Ms. Martin has almost no experience in criminal prosecutions because most of
her work has involved defending the government in civil lawsuits. She moved
to the Transportation Security Administration when it was created in 2002.
Some lawyers who have worked with Ms. Martin in other cases said they were
stunned by the events in the Moussaoui case.
"She's articulate and forceful and aggressive and smart," said Thomas J.
Whalen, an aviation lawyer at Condon & Forsyth who has worked on her side in
some cases and against her in others. "I'm really surprised about what's
happened. It's more than being tough and aggressive."
In the Moussaoui case, her communications with witnesses, and new evidence
that surfaced Tuesday that she told some witnesses not to cooperate with
defense lawyers, puts the prosecution in the position of having to
investigate and sharply criticize a government lawyer who has worked on the
In a different case, in which Ms. Martin tried to keep vital evidence out of
the hands of a lawyer on the ground that he had been associated with a civil
rights group, she was accused by the other side of overstepping court
boundaries and running roughshod over standard courtroom procedure in a zeal
to protect national security.
Ms. Martin's mother, Jean Martin Lay, said she spoke to her daughter Monday
"She was so devastated," Ms. Lay said in a telephone interview from her home
in Knoxville, Tenn. "She said she just didn't hear the judge."
Ms. Lay said her daughter was in the courtroom when Judge Brinkema issued
the order on handling witnesses, but was probably concentrating on something
else "instead of being mindful."
The judge's written order was issued last month, and Ms. Martin's contact
with the witnesses occurred last week, according to e-mail messages made
public by the court. The order was meant to sequester witnesses so their
testimony would not be corrupted. It barred the witnesses from receiving the
testimony of other witnesses or receiving any news accounts of the trial.
The e-mail messages and the recent testimony show that Ms. Martin provided
testimony and advice to seven witnesses.
Ms. Martin's mother said her impression was that her daughter found her work
at the Transportation Security Administration "not the most satisfying or
rewarding type job" because it did not involve any big cases. Her current
salary, according to a government employee database, is about $120,000 a
Others, some speaking for attribution and others not, said they could see
why Ms. Martin would find herself in trouble.
Claudio Manno, who at the time of the Sept. 11 attack was the assistant
administrator for security at the F.A.A., testified Tuesday that Ms. Martin
had taken up too much time second-guessing him and bombarding him with
e-mail messages and requests.
"She tended to go off target and wasted our time," Mr. Manno said. "We
didn't think it was pertinent."
A. P. Pishevar, a Maryland lawyer who tangled with Ms. Martin in another
case, said her conduct in that case "sticks out like a sore thumb."
According to court records, she led an effort on behalf of the government to
try to intervene in a defamation, discrimination and malicious prosecution
lawsuit brought against Lufthansa by one of Mr. Pishevar's clients. The
client was Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, an Iranian-born doctor, now an American
citizen and associate professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. who was arrested and
spent a night in jail after complaining about discriminatory treatment by
Lufthansa officials at Dulles International Airport.
Lufthansa tried to have the case dismissed by filing a secret motion that
said it had detained Mr. Kalantar to follow a secret F.A.A. security
directive. According to court records, Ms. Martin urged Lufthansa to
withhold the summary judgment motion and the security directive from both
Mr. Kalantar and his lawyer, Mr. Pishevar.
Court records show that Ms. Martin said to one Lufthansa lawyer that
ordinarily much of the evidence would be available to lawyers for a
plaintiff. But she said the government sought to keep all the material from
Mr. Pishevar, an American citizen and member of the bar in Washington,
Maryland and the United States Supreme Court, because he had worked for an
organization that fights discrimination in the United States against
Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of the Federal District Court in Washington
ultimately denied the effort to dismiss the case and directed the government
to turn over the material, which remains under seal, Mr. Pishevar said. The
case has not yet been set for trial.
Mr. Pishevar said he still felt numb from his experience with Ms. Martin,
who he said was "from behind the scenes, trying to pull many of the
Told about the latest developments in the Moussaoui case, Mr. Pishevar
paused, then said, "Res ipsa loquitur," a Latin legal term meaning, "The
thing speaks for itself."
Others describe a more positive experience with Ms. Martin.
One of her earliest assignments was to monitor the trial brought by the
survivors of those who died when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie,
Scotland. Her main job, according to a news account at the time and a lawyer
involved in the case, was to get the judge to close the courtroom any time
sensitive information was to come out.
James P. Kreindler, an aviation lawyer representing the survivors, said he
could not account for what had happened in the Moussaoui trial. "When one is
caught up in a massive bureaucracy, you may lose part of your perspective,"
Mr. Kreindler said. "She may have lost a proper perspective on the proper
role for any attorney involved in either the criminal or the civil justice
"Carla is in my experience certainly not a bad person," he added, "and this
is a very, very unfortunate thing to see happen."