[Marxism] Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies at 77

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 8 08:30:17 MST 2017


(A problematic obit still worth reading.)

NY Times, Mar. 8 2017
Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies at 77
By JOSEPH P. FRIED

Lynne F. Stewart, a radical-leftist lawyer who gained wide notice for 
representing violent, self-described revolutionaries and who spent four 
years in prison herself, convicted of aiding terrorism, died on Tuesday 
at home in Brooklyn. She was 77.

The cause of death was complications from cancer and a series of 
strokes, said her son, Geoffrey Stewart.

Ms. Stewart, who had been treated for breast cancer before entering 
prison, was granted a “compassionate release” in January 2014 after the 
cancer had spread and was deemed terminal. Doctors at the time gave her 
18 months to live.

Ms. Stewart, a former librarian and teacher, had taken up the law in the 
cause of social justice after seeing the squalor in the area around the 
public school in Harlem where she taught. She built a reputation for 
representing the poor and the reviled, usually for modest, court-paid fees.

Believing that the American political and capitalist system needed 
“radical surgery,” as she put it, she sympathized with clients who 
sought to fight that system, even with violence, although she did not 
always endorse their tactics, she said.

One such client was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric 
who was found guilty in 1995 of leading a plot to blow up New York City 
landmarks, including the United Nations, after some of his followers had 
driven a powerful bomb into a garage beneath the World Trade Center in 
1993, killing six people. Ms. Stewart would visit him in prison, where 
he was serving a life sentence in solitary confinement. Her death came 
less than three weeks after his: He died in prison on Feb. 18.

Ms. Stewart was convicted in 2005 of helping to smuggle messages from 
the imprisoned sheikh to his violent followers in Egypt. Her prison 
sentence, initially set at 28 months, was later increased to 10 years 
after an appeals court ordered the trial judge to consider a longer term.

The administration of President George W. Bush had brought the case as 
part of its tough approach to terrorism prosecutions after the Sept. 11, 
2001, attacks.

But Ms. Stewart and her supporters maintained that she had not committed 
any crimes and that the administration had targeted her to discourage 
lawyers from forcefully defending terrorism suspects.

After her release, she continued her public advocacy of radical-left 
causes, speaking at rallies and forums on behalf of releasing prisoners 
convicted of killing law enforcement agents or engaging in terrorism — 
“political prisoners” to their supporters — and in opposition to charter 
schools, which she saw as antidemocratic corporate ventures.

Her trial in 2005 had been a news event. Belying the image of a 
dangerous radical, Ms. Stewart, a short, round-faced woman, often 
arrived at court wearing a New York Mets cap and a floral-print 
housedress, dangling a cloth tote bag rather than the lawyer’s typical 
briefcase and inevitably drawing a clutch of news photographers.

News articles in later years often described her as grandmotherly — 
infuriating her critics, who insisted that such a description distracted 
the public from seeing the ally of terrorists they saw.

Many mainstream lawyers who believed that Ms. Stewart had acted 
criminally nonetheless argued that the charges of abetting terrorism 
were excessive. Her critics, though, including other lawyers, said the 
charges were justified, maintaining that she had crossed a professional 
line into criminal conspiracy.

During the trial, prosecutors said that on several prison visits Ms. 
Stewart — by loudly chattering and making other “covering noises” — had 
tried to conceal from guards that her translator was actually a 
go-between, updating Mr. Abdel Rahman on what his followers in Egypt 
were doing and receiving oral instructions from him to be relayed back 
to them.

Ms. Stewart testified that she had engaged in such behavior to safeguard 
her client’s right to a confidential conversation with her.

Prosecutors said further that Ms. Stewart had criminally aided the 
sheikh when she called a reporter in Cairo in 2000 to read a news 
release quoting Mr. Abdel Rahman as withdrawing his support for a 
cease-fire that his followers had been observing in Egypt. She testified 
that she had only been trying to keep him in the public eye, consistent 
with her policy of zealous representation.

In giving her a 28-month prison term, the trial judge cited Ms. 
Stewart’s long service in representing poor and unpopular defendants. 
But the sentence angered prosecutors, who had sought a 30-year term. 
They appealed the sentence while Ms. Stewart appealed the conviction.

In November 2009, an appellate court upheld the conviction and directed 
the trial judge, John G. Koeltl of Federal District Court in Manhattan, 
to determine whether she should be resentenced to a longer term.

The next July, Judge Koeltl did lengthen her prison term, to 10 years, 
citing, among other factors, Ms. Stewart’s public statements after the 
first sentencing, including her boast that she could do 28 months 
“standing on my head.” She had shown “a lack of remorse,” he said.

Ms. Stewart’s critics and supporters did agree on one point about her 
30-year career, which ended in disbarment with her conviction: Like 
William M. Kunstler and other lawyers who were proud to be called 
radical leftists, Ms. Stewart sympathized with the causes of violent 
clients who deemed themselves revolutionaries in America, though, she 
said, she did not always endorse their tactics.

“I think that to rid ourselves of the entrenched voracious type of 
capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism, I 
don’t think that can come nonviolently,” she testified at her trial.

But she added that she was against “anarchistic violence,” which she 
defined as violence not supported by a majority of the people, and that 
terrorist violence was “basically anarchistic.”

Ms. Stewart testified in the same measured tones in which she had 
methodically presented evidence and argued to juries on behalf of her 
clients. “I’m not abrasive,” she told an interviewer about her courtroom 
manner. Outside court, her demeanor was positively jaunty, even when she 
was speaking of the United States as a sick society needing “radical 
surgery.”

Ms. Stewart’s other high-profile clients included David J. Gilbert, a 
member of the radical group the Weather Underground. He was convicted of 
murder and robbery in the 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery in Rockland 
County, N.Y., in which two police officers and a Brink’s guard were killed.

Another client, Richard C. Williams, was convicted of killing a New 
Jersey state trooper and setting off bombs at military centers and 
corporate offices in the early 1980s.

In 1988, Ms. Stewart and Mr. Kunstler won the stunning acquittal of a 
drug dealer, Larry Davis, on charges of trying to murder nine police 
officers in a Bronx shootout in which he wounded six of them. The 
lawyers argued that Mr. Davis had fired in self-defense; he was found 
guilty only of weapons possession.

Mr. Davis, whom the police had been trying to arrest on charges of 
murdering several fellow drug dealers, became a folk hero in some 
quarters because of the shootout and his ability to elude a manhunt for 
17 days after fleeing the scene.

While many people denounced such admiration or were bewildered by it, 
Ms. Stewart had no trouble with it from her radical-left perspective.

The Davis case, she told The New York Times in 1995, “captured the 
feelings of the third-world community in the city because here’s a kid, 
whether you liked what he did or not, he stood up to the police” at a 
time when “a lot of black people were being assaulted and murdered by 
the police.” (Mr. Davis was stabbed to death in prison in 2008.)

In that interview, Ms. Stewart acknowledged that some of her leftist 
colleagues had questioned whether she should have taken Mr. Abdel 
Rahman’s case. They told her, she said, that as an Islamic 
fundamentalist he had long sought the overthrow of the Egyptian 
government in favor of a religious, authoritarian state that would 
quickly crush left-wing dissenters like her.

But she agreed to represent him, she said, because she believed that he 
was “being framed because of his political and religious teachings.” 
Moreover, she said, she sympathized with Egyptians seeking to end an 
oppressive government and saw the fundamentalist movement as “the only 
hope for change there.”

At her own trial a decade later, though, Ms. Stewart testified that she 
did not endorse the Islamic holy war that Mr. Abdel Rahman had preached, 
and that she had not intended to help his followers in Egypt.

Interviewed by The Times in 2008 — while she remained free during her 
appeal — Ms. Stewart was asked if she had second thoughts about her actions.

“Would I do it again?” she said. “I would like to think I would if I was 
confronted with the same set of circumstances. But I might do it 
differently.”

Lynne Feltham Stewart was born on Oct. 8, 1939, in Brooklyn. A daughter 
of schoolteachers, she grew up in Queens and graduated in 1961 from 
Wagner College on Staten Island. She was a public school librarian and 
teacher for a decade before entering the law school at Rutgers 
University and graduating in 1975.

Her survivors include her husband, Ralph Poynter; their daughter, 
Zenobia Brown; two other children, Geoffrey Stewart and Brenna Stewart, 
from an earlier marriage, to Robert Stewart, which ended in divorce; a 
sister, Laurel Freedman; a brother, Donald Feltham; and six grandchildren.

Recalling the development of her radical views, Ms. Stewart said she had 
led a sheltered early life in an all-white, middle-class neighborhood 
and had become aware of economic and racial injustices only when she 
began working at the Harlem public school. Seeing the poverty around 
her, she said, she decided to switch to the law.

“I wanted to change things,” she said.

Benjamin Weiser contributed reporting.




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