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Lynne Stewart Ordered to Prison

November 20, 2009

REPRINTED FROM PLAIN WORDS, Fall 2009

On November 19, 2009, Lynne Stewart turned herself in at the Lower Manhattan federal courts to begin her 28-month sentence. In 2002, the United States Government indicted Stewart for conspiring to defraud the U.S., conspiring to provide and conceal material support to terrorist activity, providing and concealing material support to terrorist activity and two counts of making false statements.

Stewart’s real crime? For 30 years, Stewart worked heroically to defend America’s poor, underprivileged, and unwanted, never afforded due process and judicial fairness without an advocate like her. Where others wouldn’t go, she defended controversial figures like David Gilbert of the Weather Underground, Richard Williams of the United Freedom Front, Sekou Odinga and Nasser Ahmed of the
Black Liberation Army, and many more like them.

The charges and conviction of Stewart is based around her former client Sheik Abdel Rahman. At former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark’s request, Stewart joined him as part of Rahman’s court-appointed defense team. In his 1995 show trial, he was convicted and is now serving a life sentence for seditious conspiracy, solicitation of murder, solicitation of an attack on American military installations, conspiracy to murder, and conspiracy to bomb in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center attack despite evi-
dence proving his innocence on all charges.

In addition to charging Stewart, the DOJ also charged a number of others: Mohammed Yousry, the Arabic language interpreter for communications between Stewart and Rahman; Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a resident of Staten Island, New York and described in the indictment as a “surrogate” for Rahman; and Yassir Al-Sirri, currently in custody in the United Kingdom.

The indictment alleges that Stewart allowed Yousry to communicate with Rahman in Arabic regarding nonlegal matters, and that she purposely made extraneous comments in English that would mask and conceal the Arabic conversation. She was also accused of violating U.S. Bureau of Prisons Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that included a gag order on her client, Sheik Abdel Rahman. When imposed, they prohibit discussion on topics the Justice Department (DOJ) rules outside of “legal representation,” so lawyers can’t discuss them with clients, thus inhibiting their defense.

Her 2004 – 2005 show trial was a mockery of justice with echoes of the worst McCarthy-like tactics. Inflammatory terrorist images were displayed in court to prejudice the jury, and prosecutors vilified Stewart as a traitor with “radical” political views. In addition, days before the verdict, the militant pro-Israeli Jewish Defense Organization put up flyers near the courthouse displaying her address. It threatened to “drive her out of her home and out of the state,” and said she “needs to be put out of business legally and effectively.”

It was part of the orchestrated scheme inside and outside the courtroom to heighten fear, convict Stewart, and intimidate other lawyers to expect the same treatment if they dare effectively represent unpopular clients. On February 10, 2005 (after a seven month trial and 13 days of deliberation) she was convicted on all five counts. Under New York state law, she was automatically disbarred, and the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division denied her petition to resign voluntarily. On October 17, 2006, she was sentenced to 28 months imprisonment, but remained free on bond pending appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Stewart Ordered to Prison

On November 17, the Appeals Court revoked Stewart’s bond, upheld the verdict, until November 19 at 5PM to let her attorney file a motion for reconsideration. It was denied, so Lynne Stewart turned herself in to begin her sentence. The situation remains fluid, dire, and complicated by Stewart’s health problems. She has surgery scheduled for December 7, unlikely now, but if done in prison or where authorities direct, it won’t be the quality she deserves.

In its ruling, the three judge panel (John Walker, Guido Calebresi and Robert Sack) was firm, hostile and belligerent in upholding the lower court’s conviction. Judge Sack
accused Stewart of lying and called for a longer sentence. “We think that whether (she) lied under oath at her trial is directly relevant to whether her sentence was appropriate,” he wrote, and directed District Court Judge John Koeltl to re-sentence her “so as to reflect that finding.” Judge Walker was even harsher, calling the original sentence “breathtakingly low.” Judge Calabrese said: “I am at a loss for any rationale upon this record that could reasonably justify a sentence of 28 months’ imprisonment for this defendant.”

They all said Stewart was “convicted principally with respect to (her violating) measures by which (she) had agreed to abide,” namely SAMs. They rejected her “argument that, as a lawyer, she was not bound by (them), and her belated argument collaterally attacking their constitutionality.” They also “affirm(ed her conviction) of providing and concealing material support to the conspiracy to murder persons in a foreign country (and) of conspiring to provide and conceal such support….We conclude that the charges were valid (and) the evidence was sufficient to sustain the convictions. We also reject Stewart’s claims that her purported attempt to serve as a ‘zealous advocate’for her client provides her with immunity from the convictions….”
“Finally, we affirm Stewart’s convictions for knowingly and willfully making false statements….when she affirmed that she intended to, and would, abide by the SAMs. In light of her repeated and flagrant violation of (them), a reasonable factfinder could conclude that (her) representations that she intended to and would abide by the SAMs were knowingly false when made. We reject the remaining challenges to the convictions. (We) affirm the district court’s rejection of Stewart’s claim that she was selectively prosecuted on account of her gender or political beliefs….We therefore affirm the convictions in their entirety.”

They redirected her case to District Court Judge Koeltl for re-sentencing. The DOJ wants 30 years. Koeltl originally imposed 28 months, let Stewart remain free on bond pending appeal, implied his decision might be overturned because of a gross miscarriage of justice, effectively rebuked the Bush administration at the time, and handed it a major defeat. Her fate is now in his hands, but justice has already been denied at a time we’re all as vulnerable as she if we dare resist state policies, unchanged under an administration no different from its predecessor.

In a November 17 news conference, Stewart said:

“I’m too old to cry, but it hurts too much not to.” In criticizing the Court’s decision, she said its timing “on the eve of the arrival of the tortured men from offshore prison in Guantanamo” suggests that lawyers appointed to represent them may face the same fate as she. “If you’re going to lawyer for these people, you’d better toe very close to the line that the government has set out (because they’ll) be watching you every inch of the way, (so those who don’t) will end up like Lynne Stewart. This is a case that is bigger than just me personally (but she added that she’ll) go on fighting.

Please write to Lynne:
Lynne Stewart #53504-054
MCC-NY  150 Park Row
New York, NY10007 USA

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