“Court Confirms Ten-Year Sentence for Lynne Stewart” by Jeff Mackler

June 29th, 2012

Court Confirms Ten-Year Sentence for Lynne Stewart

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today confirmed the 2010 decision of Federal District Court Judge John Koeltl to change his 28-month jail sentence for radical attorney and human rights activist, Lynne Stewart, to ten years. The court’s June 28, 2012 decision was not unexpected.

Following federal prosecutors’ appeal of what was widely considered a “lenient sentence,” the Second Circuit all but ordered a compliant Koeltl to re-sentence Stewart and harshly. Koeltl did just that, forcing Stewart to appeal to the very court that originally pressured Koeltl, in what was widely considered a “career decision” to do Stewart great harm.

Stewart was convicted at an outrageous 2005 New York frame-up trial on five counts of conspiracy to aid and abet and provide material support to terrorism. Her crime? Representing the “blind Sheik,” the Egyptian cleric, Omar Abdel Rachman, who had also been convicted on trumphed-up conspiracy charges.  Stewart issued a press release from her client stating his views on how Egyptian Muslim oppositionists should react to the ongoing crimes and murders of Egypt’s then President Hosni Mubarak.

Stewart was convicted of violating a vaguely-worded court-ordered SAM (Special Administrative Measure) that barred her from revealing her client’s opinions. The penalty for such violations had traditionally been a mild slap on the wrist, perhaps a warning to not repeat the “violation” and to bar attorney-client visits for a few months. Barring an unlikely Supreme Court reversal, she will now serve her ten-year sentence with perhaps a one-year or ten percent reduction for “good behavior.” She is presently incarcerated at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.

Koeltl’s original 28-month sentence statement, in the face of federal prosecutors demanding 30 years, noted that Stewart, known for representing the poor and oppressed for three decades with little financial remuneration, was a “credit to the legal profession.” Stewart served as lead  counsel for her client along with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who testified on her behalf during the trial. Clark himself had issued similar press releases with no punishment. Indeed, an indignant prosecutor during Stewart’s trial suggested that Clark himself be charged with conspiracy, but his superiors decided that imprisoning the nation’s former top attorney was not yet in their game plan and the suggestion was ignored.

The Second Circuit decision was based on the allegations that Stewart demonstrated insufficient deference to the original sentence. The court claimed that her statement to the media immediately following her sentence that, “I can do 28 months standing on my head,” demonstrated contempt for the legal system. I was standing next to Stewart at that moment and saw nothing other than a great expression of relief that she would not be sentenced, in effect to death, based on the 30 years that federal prosecutors sought. Stewart entered the sentencing hearing on that day, totally ignorant of whether her sentence would be the deeply punishing 30 years demanded by the federal prosecutors or perhaps something that she, 70 years old at the time, could “live with” and look forward to a normal life after having served the time. She carried  nothing but a plastic bag, some medicines and a toothbrush.

The Second Circuit also too umbrage at Stewart’s courageous statement when she took the stand to make her closing remarks at her trial. Her attorney at that time, Michael Tiger, asked, referring to Stewart’s issuing the press release on her client’s behalf, “Lynne, if you had to do it all over again would you do the same thing?” With a tear in her eye, Stewart stated, “I would hope that I would have the courage to do it again” She paused and continued, “I would do it again.” Stewart also insisted that her sworn duty to represent her client had to weighed against the formalities of laws or court orders that prevented such diligent representation.

This refusal to bow to authority, to show the “required deference” to legal bullies with power, outraged her persecutors, who sought vengeance in the rigged criminal “justice” system.

Stewart’s now rejected appeal argued three essential points:

I.  In relying on Lynne Stewart’s public statements to enhance the original sentence of 28 months, her First Amendment rights were abridged
II. The fourfold increase in the sentence was substantively unreasonable and failed to balance her lifetime of contribution to the community and country with the criminal act of which she was convicted.
III. The Judge’s findings of Perjury and Misuse of her position as an Attorney on which he also based the increase, were error.

“Free Lynne Stewart” must remain the rallying cry of all those who cherish civil liberties and democratic rights. Stewart, like so many others, but perhaps among the first tier, was a victim of the government-promoted malicious and murderous “war on terror” aimed at stifling all dissent  and imprisoning the innocent to justify its wars against working people at home and against the oppressed and exploited across the globe.

Jeff Mackler is the West Coast Coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee

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