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District judge takes away Moussaoui's audience

Saturday, September 7, 2002

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A judge lost her patience with Zacarias Moussaoui's inflammatory rhetoric. Moussaoui's handwritten motions will no longer be released to the public unless he stops putting in political diatribes, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema says.

No longer can he use court filings to fling curses at her, demand that a lawyer be euthanized and pray that Jews are exterminated in Palestine.

Brinkema also said she agreed with the government that the acknowledged member of al-Qaida could be sending coded messages to terrorists.

"It sounds like she's been very patient with him. I think an appellate court will be very understanding with what she's trying to do," said Sean O'Shea, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in New York City.

For months, Moussaoui has been able to use the court system to transmit his political views because he's acting as his own lawyer. These defendants get more leeway than lawyers, who must follow strict rules of procedure and decorum.

He has mixed his rhetoric with standard requests, recently winning access to an Internet site maintained by court-appointed standby lawyers.

Brinkema's order last week applies to pleadings "containing threats, racial slurs, calls to action, or other irrelevant and inappropriate language" -- but that would apply to almost all of Moussaoui's motions so far.

Laying groundwork

She also said she could revoke Moussaoui's right to represent himself against charges that he conspired with the 19 hijackers to commit terrorism. The government said it would seek the death penalty.

"She's laying the groundwork for removing him as pro se counsel," or self-represented counsel, predicted Robert Precht, an assistant dean at University of Michigan law school who represented a defendant in the first World Trade Center bombing case.

"If she cut him off earlier he could say she denied him the right to represent himself. By allowing him this room and time to disobey her orders and file motions with inflammatory language, she is creating an unimpeachable record for taking away his right to represent himself."

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said keeping the motions secret was distressing.

"The public should be able to see what he's really like," she said. "If he's a typical terrorist it's really important to see how his mind works. I'm concerned the public is going to get a sanitized view of what is going on at the court.

"I certainly don't envy Judge Brinkema."

No unlimited rights

The government and Moussaoui's standby lawyers, who were appointed by the judge to take over the defense if she orders it, have cited cases that concluded a defendant does not have an unlimited right to flout courtroom procedure.

One government motion asserted, "Courts may terminate the right to self-representation if the defendant is not able or willing to abide by the rules of procedure or courtroom protocol."

Lawrence Goldman, a New York City attorney and president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, "I have never heard of motions being sealed because they're insulting to the court. But if there was a legitimate fear he was communicating in code ... that would be a legitimate reason."


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