Incarceration Nation

Lynne Stewart’s Ten Year Sentence Upheld: The Struggle Continues!

By Carole Seligman

On June 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed the 2010 decision of Federal District Court Judge John Koeltl to change the 28-month jail sentence for Lynne Stewart to ten years. Stewart, who calls this decision “snide and unsubstantiated,” has been jailed since 2009.

Stewart was originally convicted in a New York frame-up trial on five counts of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. She represented the Egyptian cleric, Omar Abdel Rachman, an opponent of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was convicted on trumped-up conspiracy charges. Stewart issued a press release from her client stating his views on the murders and other crimes of Egypt’s then President Hosni Mubarak. The new President, Mohamed Morsi, is seeking Abdel Rahman’s extradition to Egypt on humanitarian grounds.

Stewart was convicted of violating a measure that barred her from revealing her client’s opinions. Previous penalties for such violations had been a slap on the wrist, a warning not to repeat the “violation,” and to bar attorney-client visits for a few months—not a lengthy prison sentence!

She is presently incarcerated far from home at the Federal Medical Center Carswell Prison in Texas. She recently obtained a serious operation she has needed for over three years and which the prison administration was preventing her from obtaining, and is now regaining her strength. She reported in a July 2 email to friends and supporters that during her time in the hospital “I still had my feet shackled, belly chained and cuffed; and no contact with anyone who might be worrying about me.”

The Second Circuit decision was based on the allegations that Stewart demonstrated insufficient “respect” for the original sentence. The court claimed that her statement to the media immediately following her sentence, in which she said, “I can do 28 months standing on my head” demonstrated contempt for the legal system. But supporters who were present when Stewart made this comment reported that she was merely comforting her supporters who were outraged that she had been sentenced to any prison time. She was also expressing relief not to have been sentenced to the 30 years that the federal prosecutor was seeking. At age 70, the issue was clearly, would she ever emerge from prison alive?

This refusal to show the required “deference” to powerful legal bullies outraged government prosecutors, who sought vengeance in the rigged criminal “justice” system. Stewart insisted that her duty to represent her client weighed against the formalities of court orders that prevented such diligent representation.

Stewart’s appeal of the lengthened sentence was based on arguments that her free speech rights were violated. The question arises now: can a person who appeals their prison sentence be punished for what they say in opposing the sentence?

Obviously, the long sentence was unfair. It was four times the original sentence. The judge’s findings of perjury and misuse of her position as an attorney, on which he also based the increased sentence, were wrong. 

The draconian sentence of Lynne Stewart to ten years in prison is a threat not only to her, but to all of us. If lawyers can be sent to prison for vigorously defending their clients, all of our rights to defend ourselves in court are in jeopardy. If Lynne Stewart’s speech could be used to lengthen her sentence, what’s to prevent this from happening to others?

Defense of Lynne Stewart must remain a key task for all supporters of civil liberties and democratic rights. Stewart is a victim of the government’s malicious “War on Terror” aimed at stifling all dissent and imprisoning the innocent to justify its wars against working people at home and around the world.

Stewart will appeal to all the judges of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc (the full court, not a 3-judge panel), seeking a reversal of the decision of Judge Koeltl. If that fails, the next step would be a certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Calling the case and decision against her “an affront to the Bill of Rights on almost every issue,” Stewart quotes her colleague, attorney Michael Smith, in saying that “there are First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment violations [in Stewart’s case] and that’s just for starters.”

Free Lynne Stewart!