[News] Lynne Stewart Case begins

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Mon Jun 21 18:30:02 EDT 2004


New York case tests lawyers' rights in terror cases
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N2124768.htm
21 Jun 2004 20:28:56 GMT
By Gail Appleson

NEW YORK, June 21 (Reuters) - A controversial case pitting a lawyer's 
freedom to represent clients against what many see as a Bush administration 
attempt to chip away at civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism will 
go to trial this week.

The prosecution of Lynne Stewart, a well-known New York civil rights 
lawyer, has triggered an uproar among American defense attorneys who say it 
represents a dangerous strike against a lawyer's ability to fully represent 
a client.

"It strikes deep into the hearts of lawyers everywhere," said Jeffrey 
Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"It is an extraordinary attack on the legal system because it attacks the 
independent voice of lawyers and the cherished right for attorneys to have 
confidential conversations with their clients," he added.

Stewart is accused of breaking the law by helping her imprisoned client, 
Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a radical Muslim cleric, communicate with the 
Islamic Group. Prosecutors say the group is a terrorist organization that 
sees the cleric as its spiritual leader.

Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 1995 of 
urging followers to bomb U.S. landmarks.

Jury selection in the case is expected to conclude on Monday with opening 
statements set to begin on Tuesday.

The charges allege that, after 1997, Stewart helped Abdel-Rahman violate 
prison restrictions aimed at stopping him from passing on communications 
that could result in violence. The measures restricted his access to mail, 
the media, telephones and visitors.

Among the allegations is that Stewart told a Reuters reporter in 2000 that 
the cleric had withdrawn his support for the Islamic Group's cease-fire in 
Egypt.

'DEPLORABLE CONDUCT'

While many lawyers are critical of the case, some say Stewart is no 
heroine. Sherry Colb, a Rutgers law professor, wrote an article last year 
saying Stewart is accused of communicating an order to kill people.

"This is deplorable conduct," she wrote. "It further brings shame to a 
profession that depends on lawyers' ability to remember that no matter what 
anyone says of us, we are not and must never become hired guns."

But others say Stewart was carrying out her pledged duty to defend her 
client and that evidence against her, which includes hours of government 
taped conversations with her imprisoned client, violates attorney client 
confidentiality.

They also believe the 64-year-old Stewart, a familiar figure in New York 
courts, is being singled out because she has a reputation as a left-leaning 
lawyer and political activist who has represented unpopular clients.

"No doubt they wanted to target her because of her clients," Fogel said, 
adding that the case might scare other lawyers from taking 
terrorism-related cases.

Gerald Lefcourt, a past president of the National Association of Criminal 
Defense Lawyers, said those who do take such cases might not be as zealous 
as they should be.

"It is already having a chilling effect," he said, explaining that lawyers 
who take terrorism cases fear their conversations will be intercepted by 
the government and thus will not have frank discussions with their clients.

"What's the point of having an attorney if you can't have confidences," he 
said.
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