Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lynne Stewart: Warrior

Judges don't necessarily like us. We get in the way. We're the ones who force the state to do things like actually producing evidence.

Sometimes we represent the person who could be your neighbor. Other times we represent people accused of committing heinous crimes.

It takes a certain amount of courage to stand beside your client and tell the judge who has done everything imaginable to try to force your client to enter a plea, that you are announcing ready for trial.

Lynne Stewart did that. Ms. Stewart represented an alleged terrorist. A man the federal government accused of plotting to commit acts of terrorism in the United States. To the world outside the courtroom he was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric. To Ms. Stewart, he was her client. And she set about defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while representing Mr. Abdel-Rahman to the best of her ability.

Along the way she ran afoul of los federales. While other attorneys were willing to bend to the government's demands. The government told attorneys representing accused terrorists that they could not pass messages from their clients to any third parties - or they couldn't see their clients. The measures were designed to hamper the ability of the attorneys to provide adequate representation. Ms. Stewart wasn't playing that game.

Following her post-conviction work on Mr. Abdel-Rahman's case, Ms. Stewart was indicted for allegedly passing messages from her client to his terrorist network. After a jury convicted her, Ms. Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison. After sentence was pronounced she declared that she could do the time standing on her head.

Ms. Stewart appealed the case and the appeals court sent it back for resentencing. The judge, being none too pleased with Ms. Stewart's post-trial remarks, upped her sentence to ten years because he didn't think she was remorseful enough. The Second Court of Appeals then buried their heads in the sand and affirmed the trial court's decision, finding nothing wrong with adding almost eight years to a sentence because someone didn't bow down for the government.

Writes Scott Greenfield:
The choice was sign off on rules that shouldn't constitutionally exist or leave your client effectively unrepresented. Lynne signed off, not because she agreed, but because it was the only way to defend her client.  Faced with a catch-22 (in its truest sense), Lynne did what she had to do to serve the highest purpose of a defense lawyer.  That she falsely affirmed adherence to the SAMs to do was a lesser of evils, where she made the choice of putting the zealous representation of her client ahead of felching the United States government. 
But the second prong of the appellate argument, that she was punished for saying that she could do the sentencen standing on her head introduces a different constitutional right into the mix.  While one defendant was given an extra six months for smiling during sentence, Lynne's sentenced was increased by 92 months for expressing her opinion following her original sentence.
That's right. Ms. Stewart exercised her First Amendment rights and was punished for it. She didn't believe she had done anything wrong and was punished because of it. Ms. Stewart stood up against the government and defended her client. And for that she was punished.

Lynne Stewart is a warrior who did what many of us are afraid to do. She walked to the brink and refused to blink.


Adam Poole said...

I'm all for free speech and can admire an attorney who stands up for their client but... if you are going to stand up for a principle you have to make sure that the ends justify the means and that you are acting in good faith.

Stewart and her supports argue free speech and say that the SAM's are unconstitutional because of the need to reach out to the public and the media to gather support for the defendant and his cause. The problem is that the "message" that Stewart was charged with spreading was an order to a terrorist group to not follow an offered ceasefire and to renew their terrorist attacks.

Stewart's actions sound to me like they are, and should be, illegal regardless of whether SAM's are being placed against her client or not.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

The federal government attempted to prevent Ms. Stewart and the other attorneys representing accused terrorists from being able to do their jobs. They were forced to sign agreements that they would not do certain things in order to sit down and talk with their clients.

The SAMs were the government's attempt to keep the defendants from being able to exercise their rights under the 6th Amendment.

Now if you want to argue that Ms. Stewart's actions in communicating information on behalf of her client was illegal - a jury of a dozen citizens agrees with you. But, ramping the sentence from 28 months to 10 years because she didn't show "proper" contrition is outrageous.

There are plenty of examples of folks who are convicted of crimes they didn't commit. To penalize someone for refusing to concede guilt when she didn't believe she had done anything wrong is a clear violation of the 1st Amendment