[News] Lynne Stewart testifies in her trial

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Tue Oct 26 11:42:51 EDT 2004


N.Y. Attorney Testifies In Own Terrorism Trial
Sheik's Lawyer Faces Conspiracy Charges

By Michelle Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page A15

NEW YORK, Oct. 25 -- New York lawyer Lynne Stewart found herself in the 
unusual position of being on the witness stand Monday, testifying in her 
own defense as she stands trial on charges she supported a terrorist 

With her hands clasped on her lap, she was led through a series of 
questions by her attorney Michael Tigar, to trace her political awakening 
that turned her into one of the city's top trial lawyers, well-known for 
taking on radical clients. She is on trial for allegedly helping one of 
those clients, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, communicate with his followers.

Stewart told the jury that she took his case because it had become a symbol 
of the "overreaching of government," and because "attorneys are bound to 
accept cases -- even those that are hated by the general public."

"He was a blind man. He was from a different culture. He was representing 
himself in conditions that were difficult," said Stewart, 65, who wears 
oval glasses and has a light Queens accent.

Federal prosecutors have charged Stewart with conspiracy and abetting 
terrorism, fraud and making false statements. If convicted, Stewart faces 
40 years in prison.

Prosecutors say that in 2000, Stewart passed messages between Rahman and 
his followers within the Islamic Group, designated a terrorist organization 
by the U.S. government.

A jury convicted the Egyptian cleric in 1995 of conspiring to blow up 
several New York landmarks.

Stewart is the first defense lawyer in a terrorism case to face federal 
charges of conspiring to support terrorism. Her trial began in June. In her 
testimony Monday, her defense was attempting to provide jurors a view of 
her state of mind, in order to show that Stewart was not deliberately 
assisting terrorists and to explain how she came to represent radical clients.

Stewart traced her political birth to Harlem before the civil rights era, 
where she worked as a librarian at a public school. She told the jury that 
she commuted to a New Jersey law school on a motorcycle, where she was 
schooled in the belief that the law is an instrument for improving society.

Stewart built a reputation for defending cases and people few others wanted 
to take, from victims of police brutality to mobsters and radical groups. 
But in the courtroom on Monday, Stewart made a distinction between her 
legal advocacy and the ideology of her clients.

"You have to take a step aside. You can't be too close to a client or too 
close to their cause," she said.

Originally, government attorneys accused Stewart, along with Ahmed Abdel 
Sattar and Mohammed Yousry, of aiding a plot to kidnap and kill people to 
secure the release of Rahman.

But U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl dismissed charges that Stewart 
provided "material support" for terrorist activity as being too broadly 

In November 2003, the government submitted a revised indictment. In it, 
prosecutors accused Stewart of providing "personnel" to a terrorist group, 
by facilitating communication between Rahman and his followers in the 
Islamic Group.

At issue now, and what government attorneys must prove to win a conviction, 
is whether she intended to aid terrorism.

Stewart acknowledges she passed along notes from the sheik. She called a 
Reuters reporter to convey the sheik's opposition to a cease-fire between 
his followers and the Egyptian government. Her attorneys have said she 
acted in his interest by keeping his case and voice in the public arena.

Prosecutors recorded Stewart speaking over a conversation between her aide 
and Rahman, seemingly to conceal the discussion as he talked about his 
opinions about the cease-fire. The exchange, normally covered under 
attorney-client privilege, was made available after prosecutors secured a 
warrant permitting them to secretly record privileged conversations between 
Stewart and her client.

Stewart is expected to testify for several more days.

October 26, 2004
On Stand, Terrorist's Lawyer Denies Aiding Violent Cause

After sitting silently for four months while federal prosecutors portrayed
her as an eager accomplice of her terrorist clients, Lynne F. Stewart spoke
at her trial yesterday for the first time, saying she was a "very, very
adversarial" lawyer but had never crossed the line to aid violence.

Ms. Stewart, a tenacious, unorthodox lawyer who has represented a long list
of unpopular clients over her 30-year career, sought from the first words of
her testimony in Federal District Court in Manhattan to show that everything
she had done to help one particular terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel
Rahman, had been part of a full-tilt defense inspired by her
"anti-authoritarian view of the world."

But she insisted that she had never abetted or even endorsed the Islamic
holy war preached by Mr. Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of
conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.

"I'm not in the habit of fundamentalism," Ms. Stewart said.

Ms. Stewart's testimony had been long awaited in a case that accuses her of
aiding terrorism by relaying the sheik's messages of war to his followers.
The government says she violated a fundamental oath to obey the law and
crossed over to become a terrorist conspirator herself. She and her lawyers
say the case against her is a clear example of overreaching by prosecutors
in a post-9/11 world, and violates the sacrosanct relationship between
lawyer and client.

Her testimony, on the first day of the defense presentation of its case,
brought new electricity to a long trial that is examining the limits of what
lawyers can do to represent terrorists, in one of the most ambitious terror
cases brought by the Justice Department of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

On the stand, Ms. Stewart, 65, looked much like the public school librarian
she once was, wearing her gray hair in a proper bowl cut and dressed in a
conservative black and brown dress and orthopedic lace-up shoes. But, in a
presentation full of contrasts, she described an approach to the law that
had led her to the no-holds-barred defense of unpopular, unsavory and
dangerously violent clients.

"We are bound to accept the cases of even those people who are hated by the
public," Ms. Stewart said. "We are adjured by the ethical system to fight as
hard and as vigorously and as zealously as we possibly can for our clients."

Ms. Stewart was clearly unaccustomed to sitting in the courtroom dock. She
had to be reminded by the court clerk to swear an oath to tell the truth at
the start of her testimony, and at first her face looked flushed and she
struggled to steady her hands. When her lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, asked her
to describe her defense strategy for one client, she instinctively bridled,
hesitating to reveal trade secrets.

"I'm still a tenderfoot here," she said.

The first day of her testimony was intended to humanize her for the jury,
which has been listening since June 22 to a case consisting mainly of
thousands of pages of transcripts of secretly recorded phone calls and of
meetings between Ms. Stewart and Mr. Abdel Rahman in federal prison.

In just under two hours of questioning by Mr. Tigar, Ms. Stewart spoke of
how her career had grown from the days when she commuted by motorcycle to
Rutgers University law school in New Jersey. She said she built a low-budget
community law practice in Lower Manhattan, defending "any case that came
through the door."

She said she agreed to represent Mr. Abdel Rahman in his 1995 terror trial,
against the advice of many colleagues and friends, because she thought "it
was the right thing for me to do."

Ms. Stewart's presence on the witness stand radically changed the atmosphere
of the trial. She and her two co-defendants have been heard until now only
on scratchy recordings made by the F.B.I. over several years up to 2001,
when Ms. Stewart continued to represent Mr. Abdel Rahman, who is blind,
after he was sentenced to life in prison for the thwarted bombing plot. The
federal authorities imposed severe restrictions on the sheik to silence him
in prison, restrictions she had agreed to in writing.

Ms. Stewart said she had agreed to represent the sheik despite his furious
sermons calling for violence against the United States and Egypt because she
saw that he was "a blind man, he came from a very different culture." She
said she viewed him as a major Islamic scholar and believed that he had been
railroaded by prosecutors with little evidence that he had actively
participated in the bomb plot.

"I believe government is best when government is little," said Ms. Stewart,
touching on a rare point of agreement between her leftist outlook and the
Republican administration that is prosecuting her. "A government can
overreach. A government is very, very powerful."

But Ms. Stewart insisted that she had always kept her distance from the
sheik's politics. "I'm my own person, I have my own beliefs," she said. She
said she had grown skeptical of religious fanaticism when she attended an
evangelical Christian college.

"You have to take a step to the side," she said of her strategy with
politically controversial clients. "You can't be too close to the client or
too close to the cause, whatever that may be."

Ms. Stewart said she had never made much money in her practice, and her
defense of the sheik was no exception. She received a total of $47,000 in
federal payments during the sheik's 10-month trial.

Ms. Stewart is facing five counts of lying to the government and conspiring
with Mr. Abdel Rahman to convey a call for terrorist war in Egypt to his
militant followers. Her lawyers said she faces up to 35 years in jail if
convicted on all charges.

Her two co-defendants are Mohamed Yousry, an Arabic translator who worked
with Ms. Stewart, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a postal worker and paralegal aide
in the sheik's trial who is facing the most serious terror charges. Mr.
Tigar has said Ms. Stewart's defense will last about seven days

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