Second Circuit affirms civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart conviction

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City affirmed the conviction of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart Nov. 17, and ordered her to begin her prison sentence. Stewart, along with Mohammed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, were convicted of various crimes based on association with convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman. As part of his conviction, Rahman is subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which limit his ability to communicate with individuals outside the prison. The court found that despite being a lawyer, Stewart was bound by the SAMs but knowingly and willfully lied about her intentions to comply. The court also found that Stewart provided and concealed material support to a conspiracy to murder persons in a foreign country.

The Second Circuit panel also sent the case back to the trial judge, John G. Koeltl of Federal District Court, to review the length of the Stewart’s sentence, having found that the current 28-month sentence “is out of line with the extreme seriousness of her criminal conduct.” Stewart, 70, was being treated for breast cancer at the time of her sentencing in 2006.

In a partial dissent, Second Circuit Judge John M. Walker Jr. called the current sentence “breathtakingly low” and said he would have gone further than the majority in criticizing how Judge Koeltl arrived at it. The majority decision, he wrote, “trivializes Stewart’s extremely serious conduct with a ‘slap on the wrist.'”

The Second Circuit ruling also upheld the convictions of Sattar and Yousry. Sattar, who received a 24-year term for conspiring to kill in a foreign country, is currently serving his sentence. Yousry was sentenced to 20 months for providing support for terrorism.

At a press conference, Stewart harshly criticized the ruling, and said its timing, “coming as it does on the eve of the arrival of the tortured men from offshore prison in Guantánamo,” is intended as a message for the lawyers who will represent them. Four days before the Second Circuit decision, the Justice Department announced that five accused 9-11 conspirators will be transfered from Guantánamo Bay to Manhattan to face civil trials.

“If you’re going to lawyer for these people, you’d better toe very close to the line that the government has set out,” Stewart said, warning that the ruling makes clear that the government will “be watching you every inch of the way.” Lawyers who did not toe the line “will end up like Lynne Stewart,” she said. “This is a case that is bigger than just me personally,” she added, pledging that she will “go on fighting.”

Her lawyer, Joshua L. Dratel, said the case will be pursued “as far and as long as we can,” including seeking possible Supreme Court review.

Stewart was originally convicted by a jury in 2005, and the judgment was upheld by Judge Koeltl later that year. In 2006, Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence of 30 years, saying that Stewart’s “egregious, flagrant abuse of her profession…deserves to be severely punished.” In 2007, Stewart was disbarred in the state of New York after her voluntary resignation was rejected. (Jurist, NYT, Nov. 17)

See our last post on the Lynne Stewart case.

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