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The Feds want to put Lynne Stewart in prison for being...
"Liberty's last champion"

By Nicole Colson | October 13, 2006 | Page 2

SUPPORTERS OF radical civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart are vowing to pack a New York City courtroom October 16 as a federal judge hands down her sentence.

Stewart faces a possible 30 years in prison stemming from her conviction on five counts of conspiracy, materially aiding terrorists and violation of special prison regulations. This would be an effective life sentence for the 67-year-old.

The charges stem from her defense of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a Muslim cleric convicted in 1995 of conspiring with followers in the Islamic Group to bomb several New York City landmarks.

In 2000, Stewart read a press release to a Reuters reporter in Cairo detailing Abdel Rahman's withdrawal of his personal support for a ceasefire between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government. The government admits that no violence ever resulted from this action, but two years later, using the September 11 attacks as a pretext, the Feds arrested Stewart.

In the trial that followed, the jury was repeatedly subjected to highly prejudicial "evidence," including secretly made recordings of Stewart's jailhouse conversations with her client--a clear violation of attorney-client privilege--and a videotape of Osama bin Laden.

The government is now asking federal Judge John Koeltl to make an example of the grandmother and recent cancer survivor. Prosecutors want Stewart to be given the maximum sentence in order to "serve as a deterrent for other lawyers who believe that they are above the rules and regulations of penal institutions or otherwise try to skirt the laws of this country."

But as Stewart wrote in a recent letter to Judge Koeltl, "I am not a traitor. The government's characterization of me and what occurred is inaccurate and untrue. It takes unfair advantage of the climate of urgency and hysteria that followed 9/11 and that was re-lived during the trial. I did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization."

While admitting that she may have been "careless" in her approach to the special prison regulations imposed on her as Abdel Rahman's lawyer, Stewart wrote that she saw it as her role to test "the limits of what the courts and the law would allow for my clients because I believed I was, as criminal defense lawyers often say, 'liberty's last champion.' I had acted for my clients as this kind of lawyer for my entire career...This kind of lawyering is very difficult to comprehend for those who have not been in the trenches with poor and vilified defendants."

For its part, the tabloid press has called for Stewart's head. A New York Post editorial recently stated that Stewart "deserves every day and more" of a 30-year sentence, while the New York Daily News characterized her letter to the judge as "weepy." "I admit I'm guilty as charged," the paper mocked Stewart as supposedly saying, "but after all I'm just a poor, forlorn old lady and anyway I'm a radical and I was only acting like radicals are supposed to act so pleeeeease don't send me to prison."

But for the thousands of people Stewart has touched during her career, her possible imprisonment is no laughing matter. So far, more than 800 letters of support for Stewart have poured in from activists, colleagues and clients--400 of which have been delivered to Judge Koeltl for consideration.

Stewart recently told the Village Voice that when she goes to court on October 16, she'll be wearing comfortable clothes, and will bring a toothbrush and some paperback books--just in case she's taken to prison. But for her, the loss of her legal career has been the worst punishment.

"No one ever loved being a lawyer, a champion for those with no power or voice, more than I did," she wrote to Koeltl. "I fully intended to go out with my boots on, yellow pad in hand. To be deprived of this, the chance to continue to work, is the worst punishment I can imagine...To have lost my career. To be looked at askance. This loss of my personhood is immeasurable to me. It is the worst sentence, and it is immutable."

Supporters will gather to accompany Lynne Stewart to court October 16; meet at 8 a.m. at Tom Paine Park (Foley Square) at Centre and Worth Streets in Manhattan.

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