Lynne Stewart to Appeal Guilty Verdict
By Bonnie Weinstein and Carole Seligman
Attorney Lynne Stewart and her two co-defendants, professional Arabic translator, Mohamed Yousry and post office employee/paralegal, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, were convicted of all charges of aiding and abetting terrorism. They face from twenty to forty years in prison. Stewart was immediately disbarred from the legal profession because of the conviction.
After over seven months of testimony, Stewart was not found to have committed a single crime. Instead, the jury convicted all the defendants on the basis of provisions in the Clinton administration’s precursor to the Patriot Act—the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. That legislation allowed the government to listen in on supposedly private communications between attorney and client.
The government recorded every conversation Lynne had with her co-defendants and her client, Sheik Abdel Omar-Rahman, the “Blind Sheik,” who was framed-up and convicted of plotting to blow up various landmarks in New York City—none of which was blown up. In essence, Stewart’s conviction is the result of her vigorous defense of her client and her efforts to try to repatriate him to a country “where,” Stewart says “he wouldn’t be locked away forever in a box.” Sheik Rahman is serving a life sentence, isolated from the world, not allowed to communicate with anyone but his attorneys and his wife.
The prosecutors confiscated every bit of written material Stewart had in files from her office and from her home that pertained to the case. The prosecution presented thousands of pieces of “evidence” including all the newspaper clippings on the case that the government itself had turned over to Lynne Stewart during her defense of the Sheik! And, while the judge admonished the jury not to link this case with Osama bin-Laden, or with the destruction of the Trade Center towers, these were referred to over and over again throughout the trial by the prosecution.
The prosecution placed incredible pressure on the jury. They operated under a cloud of secrecy and anonymity, given numbers to identify them, instead of their names. They were picked up and returned home by government vehicles each day of their deliberations and throughout the trial, lending an air to the trial which bolstered the government’s contention that these were dangerous defendants, although no evidence backed up that contention. Three jurors wept throughout the reading of the verdict.
This conviction will affect attorney-client privilege from now on. It is sure to make it more difficult for people charged with crimes of conspiracy or terrorism to obtain attorneys who will assiduously defend them in court. It will also impact all cases involving appeals for incarcerated defendants. No defense attorney will be sure that discussions with their clients will remain confidential if they take place in prison. And worse, no attorneys will feel secure in defending clients that have been targeted by the government as “terrorist” for fear of being accused of the same crime themselves!
Stewart is already at work preparing a vigorous appeal both to Judge Koeltl and to the Second Federal Court of Appeals. She, as well as co-defendant Mohamed Yousry, remains free on bail until the sentencing part of the process, which is scheduled for July 15. Co-defendant Ahmed Abdel Sattar, the only defendant charged and convicted with crimes of conspiracy to commit acts of violence, has been incarcerated throughout the trial and remains so.
An emergency meeting of supporters of Lynne Stewart was held in San Francisco Feb. 12 and Stewart called in and addressed the meeting by speakerphone. “The good news,” she said, “is that I’m out,” although she doesn’t know yet if she will be allowed to travel outside of New York. Her attorney, Michael Tigar, will file a round of legal motions to challenge the guilty verdict. “The jury could not have reached its decision based on evidence because there was no evidence to sustain the charges,” Stewart confidently told the meeting. She also reported that “a great wave of tremendous anger and resentment at the conviction” has swept through the legal community and many have expressed solidarity with her and joined in the movement to win her appeals and freedom.
One solidarity action in the works is to gather 100,000 letters to Judge John G. Koeltl demanding that Stewart serve no prison time. Plans are also underway to gather signatures and funds to place a full-page ad in the New York Times to bring public pressure to bear on this case. The National Lawyers Guild, of which Stewart is a member, is one of the organizations already starting to mobilize support actions for her. The Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, formed to build support during the trial, will continue to work actively to build solidarity and support for Stewart during the appeals process until she wins.
Keep abreast of all the latest developments at: www.lynnestewart.org
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