Executive Board Member
In 2005 Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was convicted on five counts of conspiring to aid terrorists and lying to the government.
Her crime? She released a statement to Reuters press service announcing “the blind Sheik’s” withdraw of support for a ceasefire between his group and the Egyptian government. This was in violation of a Special Administrative Measure (SAMs) that Lynne had agreed to with the U.S. Government.
Stewart’s indictment in 2002 was announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft. It was the FIRST time, and almost ten years after she released the statement on behalf of her client, that the federal government had prosecuted an attorney for an administrative violation.
Following the 2005 conviction, Alberto Gonzales, Ashcroft’s successor, said the convictions “send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals.”
Outside the courthouse, Stewart told reporters “I see myself as being a symbol of what people rail against when they say our civil liberties are eroded…I hope this will be a wake-up call to all citizens of this country, that you can’t lock up the lawyers, you can’t tell the lawyers how to do their jobs…I will fight on, I am not giving up… I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right.”
The government then appealed the 28 month sentence asking for lengthier sentencing. As part of her response, Lynn wrote this letter to the appeals court, stating:
The government disparages the idea of zealous advocacy because it has never practiced criminal defense law as I did, with heartfelt concern for my clients. I tested the limits of what the courts and law would allow for my clients because I believed I was, as criminal defense lawyers often say, “liberty’s last champion.” I had acted for my clients as this kind of lawyer for my entire career. Clients were extremely grateful, as were many judges, who called upon my to represent some of the most difficult clients to come before them. When Mattias Reyes, the true perpetrator of the attacks and rape of the Central Park jogger, wanted to come forward and confess to his crimes, he turned to me. He had learned that I was a lawyer who he could trust and who was also trusted by prosecutors and judges, and who would represent him with the integrity necessary to accomplish his purpose. This kind of lawyering is very difficult to comprehend for those who have not been in the trenches with poor and vilified defendants.
Lynne was astonishingly re-sentenced in 2010 from 28 months to 10 years in prison.
Lynne returned home from prison after a federal judge ordered her compassionate release. She is 74 years old and dying from late-stage breast cancer. She served nearly four years of the 10-year sentence.
There was a celebration welcoming Lynne Stewart home in Oakland May 4th. Speakers expressed their gratitude for her unwavering commitment to justice through uncompromising defense work. Speakers also highlighted that Lynne would still be incarcerated but for the international out-cry against her unjust sentencing. Her release demonstrates the importance of international solidarity movements and for each one of us to speak out for what is right in the face of opposition.
The crux of our society’s adversarial legal framework requires zealous, competent, and committed advocacy on BOTH sides. Justice is not served without it. Nor is justice served by silence. In solidarity with those wrongly convicted and sitting behind bars, it is necessary for each of us to become educated on the realities of our broken justice system and speak the truth. Our conversations amongst our friends and families will spread until there is one resounding voice speaking out against the incarceration of political prisoners and for an equitable government not afraid of those who challenge the status quo.
A version of this article originally appeared at Jessica Arena's blog.