[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [PDF opinion] Wednesday that a Virginia federal court judge lacked the necessary power to order the federal government to turn over grand jury transcripts of the Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive] criminal trial for use in a civil suit brought by families of 9/11 victims against the airline industry. The civil plaintiffs, who sued the airlines in federal court in New York, requested [motion 1, PDF; motion 2, PDF] the transcripts from District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who presided over Moussaoui's criminal trial. Brinkema then ordered [PDF text] the federal government to transfer the tapes over to the civil plaintiffs.
In finding that only the New York federal court could order discovery in the case, the Fourth Circuit wrote:
We, like the district court, have great sympathy for the victims of September 11 and their families. They have endured the most abhorrent of acts. But regardless of how much respect and compassion this court has, we must ensure that the federal courts in our jurisdiction - no matter how well intentioned - do not exceed their legal power...Zacarias Moussaoui pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in April 2005 to six conspiracy charges in connection with the 9/11 attacks and was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] in May 2006. AP has more.
Congress has confined the Civil Plaintiffs' action to the Southern District of New York. If they need access to Moussaoui's grand jury transcripts, they are of course free to return to the Eastern District of Virginia and make a request under Rule 6(e) to transfer those transcripts to the Southern District of New York. Nevertheless, the general discovery process must be controlled by the very capable judges of the Southern District of New York, the only court with jurisdiction over the Civil Plaintiffs' causes of action.