Volume 80, Number 11 | August 12 - 18, 2010
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Stewart appeals; No word from ‘Don’t Worry Murray’

By Mary Reinholz

A court-appointed lawyer for disbarred radical attorney Lynne Stewart has appealed the recent increase of Stewart’s sentence from 28 months to 10 years for aiding Islamic terrorism abroad and defrauding the U.S. government. Stewart, 70, has been behind bars since late 2009 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Park Row. 

Jill Shellow said she had 14 days to file a notice of appeal after the new sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl on July 15, and noted she did so “early” on July 26. Early last week, Koeltl, who presided at Stewart’s nine-month trial in Foley Square in 2005, filed his decision to re-sentence with the Southern District clerk’s office, she said. 

Both filings were sent to a three-member panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, which last November upheld Stewart’s 2005 conviction, and ordered her to begin jail time. That same judicial body gave Koeltl a mandate to reconsider his first sentence of Stewart — which one Court of Appeals judge had described as “breathtakingly low” — on charges including smuggling messages from her convicted terrorist client Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (a.k.a. “The Blind Sheik”) to his violent followers in Egypt. Two of her co-defendants in the case were also convicted, but not resentenced.

Asked if she believed Koeltl resentenced Stewart to 10 years because he may have feared a reversal on anything lower from the higher court, Shellow, who represented Stewart for the ruling, replied: “He didn’t have to give her 10 years. But there’s no question he was looking over his shoulder.” She disputed Koeltl’s claim at resentencing that Stewart showed a “lack of remorse” in statements to the press by saying she could do 28 months “standing on my head.”

“She was facing a possible 30 years,” said Shellow, claiming Stewart was trying to say of the 28 months, “‘I can handle this.’ She was emotionally and physically exhausted and she’d been given a gift.” Koeltl’s first sentence of 28 months,” she continued, was “cogent and thorough and careful — a paradigm of how to sentence a defendant whose contributions included representing the poor, the disenfranchised and the despised. Very few lawyers give up lucrative careers to represent the poor.”

Several leftist lawyers sympathetic to Stewart expressed pessimism over her chances on appeal, given the Second Circuit’s record on the case. But Ralph Poynter, Stewart’s husband, said in a telephone interview that his wife “wanted to think positively. Maybe she could win even with the Second Circuit judges, although it’s not likely,” he said. “They upheld her conviction. But we have to take that and go forward.”

Poynter said that Stewart, though in jail and expecting to be transferred to a federal lockup in Danbury, Conn., is “hurting, but she’s not defeated and will continue fighting,” even up to the U.S. Supreme Court, if permitted to go that route by the Second Circuit judges should they reject her appeal of the new sentence.

In the meantime, Poynter noted he has received calls from a “whole list of people” seeking to represent Stewart on appeal as court-appointed attorneys. But, he said, he hasn’t heard from prominent criminal-defense attorney Murray Richman of the Bronx, a longtime acquaintance and former colleague of Stewart’s known as “Don’t Worry Murray” to a slew of high-profile clients. Poynter described Shellow as “part of the team” that began working on Stewart’s case when she was first defended in 2003 by renowned Washington, D.C., attorney Michael Tigar, lead attorney at her trial.

Tigar left the case after Stewart’s conviction, citing health problems. More recently, two other lawyers for Stewart have left the case, Joshua Dratel and Elizabeth Fink, the latter departing shortly before the resentencing.

Stewart relied on court-appointed lawyers because, Shellow said, “Lynne would have never had the financial resources to defend herself against the U.S. government,” which spent “millions of dollars” prosecuting the case. She noted that a brief for her appeal would likely analyze Stewart’s court testimony and the government’s contention that she committed perjury with an intent to obstruct justice, a charge Tigar denied at trial.

Another issue, Shellow said, is the “lack of harm” that came out of Stewart’s conduct as a lawyer for Abdel-Rahman — particularly her issuing a 2000 press release to Reuters in Cairo announcing to his designated terrorist network, The Islamic Group, that he supported a withdrawal of a cease-fire with the Egyptian government.

“When Lynne made the statement to Reuters, Abel-Rahman had no impact,” Shellow said. “There was no harm, no evidence that the sheik had anywhere near the same influence he had at the time of his trial in 1995.

“Her intent, as she clearly testified, was merely to make his name known,” Shellow explained. “He was languishing incommunicado in prison. It’s sort of like nothing happens if no one hears the trees fall in the forest.”

 


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