NEW YORK: A judge is to decide Monday whether to send a civil rights lawyer to prison for what could be the rest of her life for allegedly allowing an Egyptian sheikh convicted in a terror plot to communicate with his followers.
Lynne Stewart, who has cancer, is asking the judge to be lenient and see her as a well-intentioned attorney who made a serious mistake.
Prosecutors want Stewart, 67, to receive the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.US District Judge John G. Koeltl is to sentence Stewart and two co-defendants Monday for a scheme the government says enabled a jailed blind Egyptian sheik to communicate with followers despite demands that he be isolated from the world.
Stewart was convicted in February 2005 of providing material support to terrorists for releasing a statement by Omar Abdel-Rahman, a sheikh sentenced to life after he was convicted in plots to blow up five New York landmarks and assassinate President Hosni Mubarak.
Stewart, who represented the sheikh at his 1995 trial, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, and her sentencing has been delayed while she underwent treatment.Stewart was arrested six months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, along with Mohamed Yousry, an Arabic interpreter, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a US postal worker.
In a letter to the judge, Stewart asked for mercy.
I am not a traitor, she wrote. The government s characterization of me and what occurred is inaccurate and untrue. It takes unfair advantage of the climate of urgency and hysteria that followed 9/11 and that was re-lived during the trial. I did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization.
Mixed with her trademark defiance 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.
Koeltl already has upheld the jury verdict, rejecting Stewart s claim that Abdel-Rahman was engaging in protected speech when he expressed his opinion about a cease fire by Islamic militants in Egypt that Stewart passed along in a 2000 press release.
Prosecutors see the case in stark terms, telling the judge in a pre-sentencing document that Stewart s egregious, flagrant abuse of her profession, abuse that amounted to material support to a terrorist group, deserves to be severely punished. They agreed with a U.S. Probation Department pre-sentencing report that recommended Stewart serve the maximum sentence.
Lawyer Elizabeth Fink wrote to the judge on Stewart s behalf, calling the government s position draconian, inhumane and ludicrous. Yousry and Stewart, both convicted of providing material support to terrorists, face up to 30 years in prison.
Sattar, convicted of conspiracy to kill and kidnap people in a foreign country, could face life in prison.
Besides the material support conviction, Stewart also was convicted of defrauding the government and making false statements for breaking her promise to abide by special rules the government imposed on the sheik to prevent him from communicating with his followers.