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Who is Carla Martin and why is she in trouble?

Lawyer excoriated by both sides after Moussaoui trial blunder

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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Trials
Acts of terror
September 11 attacks
Zacarias Moussaoui

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Until Monday, Carla Jean Martin was a mid-career attorney working in relative obscurity at the Transportation Security Administration.

Now she's a fixture in the news.

It began with the disclosure of conduct that threatens to derail the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to face a U.S. jury in connection with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Martin, 51, is accused of improperly contacting a half-dozen aviation safety witnesses in violation of a judge's order. (Watch why a lawyer isn't so surprised by her conduct -- 1:52)

She sent them trial transcripts by e-mail, supplemented with her observations, suggestions and talking points, according to testimony.

Martin's attorney, Roscoe Howard, defended her Thursday.

"Someone has decided they're going to throw her under the bus, and that's exactly what's happened here," Howard said Thursday in an interview with CNN. "I think there are explanations for everything."

Howard said earlier in a statement that Martin has been "viciously vilified by assertions from the prosecution and various media pundits."

"Only her accusers' stories have been told; and those stories have been accepted as the whole truth. They are not," Howard's statement said

He indicated to CNN that Martin would tell her story first to U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who presides over the case.

"She didn't intentionally do anything wrong," said Martin's mother, Jean Martin Lay, 82. She lives in Tennessee, where Martin went to high school and college.

"She did not know she was not supposed to do anything with the witnesses."

Martin's actions violated Brinkema's order for witnesses not to follow court proceedings or discuss them with each other until they had testified.

"It was one of the most bone-headed blunders ever seen in a high-profile federal case," said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami.

"It was unfathomable for a government lawyer," he added. "It's like Law 101."

The damage done

Martin's father was an attorney, and she has been a member of the Pennsylvania bar for 15 years.

To repair the damage, Brinkema excluded six witnesses from the trial and barred testimony about aviation security, virtually gutting half of the prosecution's case.

In court papers, the three assistant U.S. attorneys whose trial has been jeopardized called Martin "inept" and a "miscreant" and wrote that her actions were "apparently criminal behavior."

Martin has been placed on paid administrative leave from her $120,000 a year job at the Transportation Security Administration. She could face a contempt-of-court citation and witness-tampering charges.

Howard said Martin is preparing a response to the accusations.

"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," the statement said. "Only those who will judge Carla Martin on the basis of one side of the story should believe what has been said about her."

Martin's mother said her daughter is devastated.

"She knows what's at stake. Her career could be down the tubes," Lay said.

Daughter of an attorney

Martin is the second of four children, Lay said.

Her father worked for the government when the family lived in Washington in the 1950s and early 1960s. Carla Martin was born in the capital and lived there until she was 9.

Her father went into private practice when the family moved to Tennessee in 1963. Martin's mother, a former government secretary, worked as his assistant.

Carla Martin earned her law degree from American University Washington College in 1989. She graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1976 as a liberal arts major with an emphasis in German. She belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Law school initially was not on her radar.

"She had no desire; she had other aspirations," her mother said.

Martin spent the years between college and law school working as a flight attendant.

"I think it was mostly the travel," her mother said of her daughter's attraction to that job.

Martin became an attorney in 1990 and secured a job with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, where she still lives. In April 2002 Martin switched over to the Transportation Security Administration's office of chief counsel.

The TSA was created after the 9/11 attacks and took over aviation security from the FAA. It is part of the post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security.

One attorney who was Martin's opposing counsel in a discrimination case, A.P. Pishevar, told CNN he regarded Martin as "aggressive, perhaps over-zealous."

Another former colleague, who requested anonymity, said Martin had "good attorney skills," but she was "very opinionated."

Martin is one of many government attorneys who assisted prosecutors in preparing government witnesses and documents for the trial that began last week to decide only whether Moussaoui should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy last year. He has denied any direct connection to the 9/11 attacks.

Now the aviation witnesses -- and perhaps others -- can't testify, and the prosecution is reeling.

Trying to save their case, prosecutors branded Martin "a lone miscreant" whose "aberrant and apparently criminal behavior should not be the basis for undoing the good work of so many."

The judge has accused Martin of misconduct and said she told lawyers "a bald-faced lie" about some witnesses' unwillingness to talk to Moussaoui's defense team.

Even one of the FAA witnesses labeled Martin a pest who peppered everyone with e-mail and had "a tendency to go off on tangents."

Family members of 9/11 victims say they feel betrayed, saying Martin's actions may have cheated them of the long-awaited chance to see justice done.

Rosemary Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was aboard the hijacked plane that was crashed into the Pentagon, is among the angry 9/11 family members.

"I felt like my heart had been ripped out. I felt like my husband had been killed again. I felt like the government has let me down one more time," she said.

"One woman has made this entire case a laughingstock," Dillard said. "She knows the rules, she didn't play by them."

CNN's John Martin and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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