Monday, January 22, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — Prosecutors yesterday asked the judge in the Jose Padilla terrorism-support case to punish a defense attorney who leaked transcripts of Padilla’s intercepted phone conversations, saying the leak violated a court order and could jeopardize selection of an impartial jury.

“There is no question that the disclosure was calculated and deliberate, with the effect of exposing potential jurors to evidence before it is introduced at trial when both sides will have the opportunity to argue its significance,” prosecutors said in court papers.

The transcripts were part of a Jan. 4 New York Times story that raised questions about the strength of the case against Padilla. On the transcripts, Padilla is not heard discussing any violent acts or terrorist plots, and many of the conversations seem to be harmless.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on the issue, the latest in a string of complications to arise in the case of the suspected al Qaeda operative.

Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member, is charged with being part of a North American cell that provided cash, supplies and recruits to Islamist extremists. Originally accused of plotting a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack and arrested in 2002, Padilla was designated an enemy combatant by President Bush and held without criminal charge at a Navy brig for 3 years.

He was added to an existing Miami terrorism-support case in late 2005 during a legal battle over the president’s wartime detention powers. The dirty-bomb accusations are not mentioned in the Miami indictment.

Three Miami-based public defenders representing Padilla — Michael Caruso, Anthony Natale and Orlando do Campo — acknowledged in court papers that “one of Jose Padilla’s counsel” provided the transcripts to a Times reporter.

The attorney responsible was not identified. Padilla also is represented by Andrew Patel, a New York lawyer, but his name does not appear on the document acknowledging responsibility for the leak.

The seven transcripts were covered by a 2005 order by Judge Cooke prohibiting dissemination of “sensitive” evidence. The transcripts are of declassified telephone intercepts on which Padilla’s voice is heard. They were obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Prosecutors accused defense attorneys of “whipping up a media frenzy” that could taint the pool of prospective jurors, and contended that the disclosure violates state and U.S. bar association rules. Penalties for such violations vary from jail time in extreme cases to a judicial reprimand.

The defense attorneys said in their own court papers that because the 2005 order had been replaced in 2006, not everyone on Padilla’s team understood that the rules regarding sensitive material still applied.

A spokeswoman for the Times declined to comment. None of the four defense attorneys responded to e-mail messages seeking comment about the latest government claims.

The Padilla trial had been scheduled to start yesterday but was delayed until April.

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