Lynne Stewart battles cancer

A March 3 press release from the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee:

Attorney Lynne Stewart now faces another battle for her life: the battle against breast cancer. Ms. Stewart’s sentencing is pending following her conviction last year on charges of aiding terrorism in a case where the government stretched her conversations with a reporter regarding her client into serious, felony charges. Ms. Stewart, 67 years old, faces 30 years in prison and has already lost her ability to practice law – her beloved profession. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in November, 2005. On January 9, 2006, doctors removed a 2.4 centimeter tumor from her left breast that was discovered to be an invasive ductal carcinoma. Over the past two months, Ms. Stewart has consulted with a number of medical specialists about her cancer, the treatment options, and the risks of recurrence.

At the end of March, Ms. Stewart will begin radiation therapy and other treatment. Accordingly, Lynne Stewart’s attorneys are requesting that the Court give Ms. Stewart until July 31, 2006, to file her sentencing memoranda.

From the New York Times, March 4:

Breast Cancer Delays Sentencing of Lawyer Convicted in Terrorism Case
More than a year has passed since Lynne F. Stewart, a defense lawyer who proudly calls herself a radical, was convicted of aiding terrorists in a high-profile federal trial in New York. But she still has not been sentenced.

Debate has percolated about the Feb. 10, 2005, verdict against Ms. Stewart, with civil libertarians saying it violated her rights to represent a terrorist client and justice officials promoting it as a blow against terrorism. But the court became strangely quiet about the case, with Judge John G. Koeltl repeatedly postponing the sentencing without explanation.

Yesterday, Ms. Stewart, who remains free on bail, clarified the mystery when her lawyers filed a letter revealing that she is recovering from surgery on Jan. 9 for breast cancer and is about to start a program of radiation therapy. She requested a new delay of her sentencing until after July 31.

Ms. Stewart said that she had alerted Judge Koeltl about her cancer soon after her doctors saw signs of it in November, but the judge agreed to keep any discussion of her illness confidential until now.

“Talk about getting hit over the head with a sledgehammer, oh me,” said Ms. Stewart, recalling the day in early December when her doctor, reading the results of a biopsy, confirmed the

Ms. Stewart, 66, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, in effect a life sentence, after her conviction on five counts of providing material aid to terrorism and lying to the government. She was found guilty of conspiring with an imprisoned terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, to defy special federal rules that barred him from communicating with his militant Islamic followers in Egypt.

In May 2000 Ms. Stewart carried a message from the sheik out of federal prison and later read it by telephone to a Reuters reporter in Cairo. The sheik was convicted in 1995 and is serving a life sentence for conspiring in 1993 to bomb the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and other New York City landmarks.

Ms. Stewart said she had no illusion about much chance of avoiding prison. Judge Koeltl, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, denied her motions for a new trial in a sternly worded Oct. 25 ruling.

In a telephone interview from a country home upstate where she is recuperating, Ms. Stewart said, “The ultimate reality is this sentencing is going to happen.” She said she hoped the judge would agree that she should recover from the cancer before going to prison. Her message, she said, is, “You may send me to jail for the rest of my life, but at least I’ll go in strong and resistant to whatever happens.”

After a Feb. 24 sentencing date was postponed, she was scheduled to be sentenced on March 10.

A letter from Ms. Stewart’s oncologist, Dr. Michael L. Grossbard, filed with the court yesterday, reported that surgeons had removed a 2.4-centimeter “invasive ductal carcinoma” from her left breast. Dr. Grossbard, the chief of
hematology and oncology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan, said that Ms. Stewart would require radiation treatments every weekday for about six weeks, starting at the end of this month.

“Fatigue can be a severe side effect for some patients and can limit their participation in usual daily activities,” Dr. Grossbard wrote.

Ms. Stewart, who appeared sturdy and resolute throughout the trial, said that dealing with illness in the wake of her conviction had been difficult. “I have been totally consumed by this,” she said. “I’m fragile enough that I can’t just sit down and talk about this sentencing in the abstract.”

Prosecutors in the case had no comment yesterday, noting that most of the court record about Ms. Stewart’s health was still under seal.

For months after the trial Ms. Stewart, a cause célèbre in leftist and civil liberties circles, traveled around the country, speaking to groups of supporters. She stopped when the cancer was diagnosed, she said. She also learned last year that she had high blood pressure.

Ms. Stewart and her lawyers denied that she was seeking any special dispensation from the court. “We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary, beyond what is reasonable for the therapy she is undergoing,” said Jill R. Shellow-Lavine, one of Ms. Stewart’s lawyers. They are seeking a filing date of July 31 for their sentencing motions, which could lead to a sentencing date as late as September.

Two other defendants in the case are also awaiting sentencing. They are Mohamed Yousry, 49, Ms. Stewart’s Arabic translator, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, 46, a postal worker from Staten Island who was a paralegal in the sheik’s case. Mr. Yousry remains free on bail, but Mr. Sattar, who was convicted of conspiring to kidnap and kill in a foreign country, the most serious charge in the trial, is now in maximum security solitary confinement in the federal jail in Manhattan.

A lawyer for Mr. Sattar, Kenneth A. Paul, said his client had been abruptly transferred recently to the most severe isolation unit in the Metropolitan Correctional Center and placed under the same type of restrictions, known as special administrative measures, that were imposed on Mr. Abdel Rahman. Mr. Sattar is confined to his cell 24 hours a day. The one-hour daily recreation time that he had had since he was first incarcerated four years ago has been canceled.

“He’s in a complete shutdown right now,” Mr. Paul said, “with no phone calls and no visitation, and we don’t know why.”

Prosecutors declined to comment on Mr. Sattar’s situation.

See our last post on Lynne Stewart.