- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — She’s already a grandmother of 14, a cancer survivor and a former civil rights lawyer who took on radical clients others considered toxic.

Lynne Stewart will soon find out if she will be forced to assume another role — prison inmate.

“I couldn’t tell you I’m not stressed,” Mrs. Stewart said about her sentencing today in a Manhattan terrorism case. “I’m very concerned.”

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to impose a 30-year term for what they described in court papers as Mrs. Stewart’s “extremely dangerous and devious” conduct to help an Egyptian terrorist leader communicate with followers.

Mrs. Stewart, 67, recently responded by writing the judge a nine-page letter seeking leniency.

Mixed with her trademark defiance — “I am not a traitor” — was a measure of contrition. After some soul searching, she wrote, she had concluded that a careless over-devotion to her clients — “I am softhearted to the point of self-abnegation” — was her undoing.

The letter was an attempt to “look back at this disaster in my life and speak to the judge from my brain and my heart,” she told the Associated Press in a recent telephone interview.

She concedes the plea may be too little, too late.

“I don’t know whether it’s the lawyer or the Irish in me that says, ‘Prepare for the worst,’ ” she said.

Mrs. Stewart was convicted in February 2005 of providing material support to terrorists by releasing a statement of Sheik Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, who was imprisoned for life after being convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.

Prosecutors said she blatantly broke rules designed to keep the blind cleric from communicating with the outside world and inciting violence, especially among his followers in Egypt.

It was hardly unusual for Mrs. Stewart to question authority and defend unpopular figures in her three-decade legal career. With an aggressive yet self-effacing courtroom style, she represented Black Panthers, leaders of the 1960s student activist group Weather Underground, a former mob hit man and a man accused of trying to kill nine police officers.

As with other clients, she grew close to Abdel-Rahman and watched as he deteriorated mentally and physically through years of solitary confinement — to the point, she says, that she felt compelled to help him speak out.

She thinks the September 11 attacks, more than anything, made her behavior intolerable in the eyes of the government and gave it an excuse to make an example out of her.

Testifying in her own defense, Mrs. Stewart insisted she never condoned the sheik’s terrorist agenda. But she also called herself “a revolutionary with a small ‘r,’ ” saying she thinks violence against institutions was sometimes necessary to fight oppression.

She still believes it.

“My politics hasn’t changed,” she said. But she regrets not striking a gentler tone on the witness stand.

“I probably should have spent more time talking about what kind of lawyer I am, so the jury would understand,” she said.


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