TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mousssaoui Witnesses Coached to Protect Tort Defense?

Wow.  If this is true, it's a pretty big deal.

Lawyers representing victims of the 9/11 attacks said Friday that Transportation Safety Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin, alleged to have coached witnesses . . . and disclosed part of the government's case in violation of a sequestration order . . . in the trial against Zacarias Moussaoui . . ., did so to ensure that witness statements did not undermine the defense strategy of United Airlines and American Airlines in a separate civil action brought by 9/11 families. The lawyers noted that the government's case against Moussaoui took the position that gate security could have stopped the hijackers had security personnel been on the look-out for short-bladed knives such as the ones used by the hijackers. This position is completely contrary to the airlines' defense strategy and would substantially undermine their case. Communications between Martin and airline defense lawyers were outlined in a brief . . . filed by Moussaoui defense lawyers Thursday.

The key part of the letter brief [PDF, letter brief at end] referenced is this:


I should note that the testimony the TSA attorney was apparently urging is consistent not just with the airlines' presumed litigation position but also with improving the credibility of the criminal prosecution's position.  In other words, you could seek to encourage or elicit this sort of testimony from the aviation witnesses not just to help the airline defendants, but also to help the prosecution avoid a defense argument ("The opening has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a truck through."). 

Either way, of course, the coaching appears contrary to the court's order -- and remarkably explicit, from this e-mail anyway.  And relying on and citing to conversations with private aviation attorneys (and identifying yourself as one of them) as a reason to shape testimony in a particular way is problematic at best.

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The Court's order is the Court's order and must be followed. I wonder, however, if the witnesses that were coached were prepared to honestly and truthfully testify to those facts anyway. Or, in other words, were they being ask to lie? Does it make a difference to the Court or public?

I have not heard this information in the news.


Posted by: Dwayne Clark | Mar 19, 2006 5:38:19 AM

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