Nov 18, 2009

Lynne Stewart Heads for Prison

Lynne Stewart is an ex-NY civil rights lawyer.  She was disbarred in 2005 after she was convicted of passing messages from imprisoned terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman to his followers.  Stewart was sentenced to serve 20 months in prison, but she remained free on bail while her case sat before a Court of Appeal.  On November 17, 2009, the Court of Appeals not only affirmed the conviction but added injury to injury by ordering the trial judge to re-consider the "lenient" sentence.  Stewart might have angered the judges by bragging to her followers in 2005 that she could "serve 20 months standing on my head."


Civil rights lawyers especially were infuriated by Stewart's conviction.  They condemned it as a violation of free speech and an interference with attorneys' obligation to defend clients zealously.  But to me, Stewart has only herself to blame.  As a condition of meeting with her client Abdel-Rahman in prison, Stewart agreed not to pass messages from him to followers who were waiting for a signal from him as to whether to ignore a cease-fire agreement.  Nevertheless, Stewart talked to the press about statements that Abdel-Rahman had made to her during their prison meeting.  

It's hard to see how keeping her mouth shut about what Abdel-Rahman told her would have interfered with Stewart's ability to represent her client.  Nothing she told the world would have produced helpful evidence for her client.  The condition she agreed to aside, Stewart might also have acted unethically by talking about a confidential client communication.  Stewart knew what she was doing and sought to embarrass the U.S. government.  She has a long and honorable history of helping the powerless and disenfranchised, and it's sad to see her in prison so late in her life.