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It wouldn’t have been hard to feel sorry for Lynne Stewart, the New York attorney convicted of providing material support to terrorists. At age 67 and suffering from breast cancer, she now faces 28 months in a federal penitentiary. After three decades of providing dedicated — and sometimes brilliant — representation to the poor and despised, she sees her career in ruins, and (as she once put it) she has no pension plan. Yes, her crimes were dreadful, but she wasn’t the first guileless soul to be led astray by romantic notions of somebody else’s revolution. Judging from the outpouring of support from former clients, colleagues, and even adversaries, Stewart has obviously done much good in her life. Given all that, I would have liked to be able to write a finely balanced account of her case, weighing both the good and the bad, and perhaps ultimately applauding U.S. District Judge John Koeltl’s decision to give her a far lighter sentence than the prosecution requested. But then I read Stewart’s own words, which are filled with sanctimony and disdain. Instead of apologizing for putting innocent lives at risk, she persists in justifying her illegal conduct and reviling the prosecution. So however much I try to sympathize with Stewart, there is no escaping the fact that she has done her best to undermine the role that attorneys play in a democratic society. THE OPPOSITE OF CONTRITE Let’s start with Stewart’s Sept. 26 pre-sentencing letter to Koeltl, in which she attempted to explain why the court should not send her to prison. At a time when one would expect considerable candor and absolute contrition, Stewart attacked the prosecutors for taking “unfair advantage” of post-9/11 urgency and hysteria. In contrast to the perfidious prosecutors (and the apparently gullible jury that found her guilty in February 2005), Stewart called herself “caring,” “heartfelt,” and “misunderstood.” At worst, she was “overly optimistic” and “naive.” Not for a moment did she concede that the government had a good reason to isolate her client, the convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. Nor did she admit to anything other than a minor — and, in her view, entirely understandable — error in judgment in notifying the sheik’s followers that he had withdrawn his support for a cease-fire in their war against the Egyptian regime. In other words, Stewart was righteous and the prosecutors were malicious. And that was when she was trying to make a good impression. On Oct. 16, after Koeltl delivered his surprisingly lenient 28-month sentence (the prosecutors had asked for 30 years), Stewart reverted to form. On the street in front of the courthouse, she told her assembled fans that the light sentence was a “great victory against an overreaching government” and bragged that she could do the time “standing on my head.” Lest anyone take her contrition (such as it was) too seriously, she declared her intention to someday make herself “back into the lawyer I was.” The cheering crowd knew just what she meant. Throughout her career, Stewart exemplified a certain style of highly politicized lawyering in which she paid nearly as much attention to her clients’ anti-government causes as to their legal rights. In her letter to Koeltl, she called this “caring for the whole client.” But the reality was hardly so benign. In the case of Abdel-Rahman, it apparently meant serving as a bridge to his organization, the Islamic Group, which is known for launching armed attacks against Westerners, Coptic Christians, and Egyptian police. Abdel-Rahman, it should be remembered, was convicted in 1995 of plotting a bombing campaign in the New York area and conspiring to murder Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. In 1997 his followers murdered 58 European tourists as part of their campaign to cripple the Egyptian economy and topple the government. Afraid that the sheik would inspire further violence, the U.S. government placed him in extraordinary isolation in prison and prohibited him from communicating with the outside world. Only his lawyers (including Stewart, who had defended him at trial) and their translators had access to the sheik, and they were required to sign affirmations that they would not use their meetings or correspondence with him to pass messages to third parties. Stewart broke her promise, using her visits to facilitate communications between the sheik and the Islamic Group. Most egregiously, she issued a press release in 2000 announcing that Abdel-Rahman had withdrawn his support for a cease-fire in Egypt that had been in place since shortly after the tourist murders. She also distracted the prison guards, pretending to be speaking to Abdel-Rahman while really just talking gibberish, so that her translator could take down messages from the sheik and pass them along to his acolytes — including the notorious Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who once composed a fatwa that called for “killing Jews wherever they are found.” ZEALOUS ADVOCACY? In her defense, Stewart wrote that she had no inkling that “the government could misunderstand and misinterpret my true purpose,” which was nothing more worrisome than zealously standing “between the Sheik and the government.” But, of course, there is a problem. It is not the job of a lawyer to facilitate political communication — even when it is not between terrorists. By choosing to become the sheik’s envoy, Stewart stepped outside the role of counsel and assumed the risk of carrying out his unlawful goals. Stewart justified her “advocacy” by claiming that she was trying to keep Abdel-Rahman visible on the public stage so that he might one day be transferred to an Egyptian prison. By that logic, however, there would be no constraints on legal representation. Almost any activity could be tenuously linked to a legal objective, warranting all sorts of complicity in a client’s potential crimes. Perhaps reconsideration of the cease-fire might have enhanced Abdel-Rahman’s chances of a prison transfer, but it would do so by increasing the likelihood of Islamic Group violence. That’s coercion, not representation, and lawyers should play no part in it. Stewart’s position is actually an insult to the many admirable and gutsy lawyers who are now representing unpopular clients — including accused terrorists and Guant�namo Bay detainees — but who have stayed within the requirements of the law. Have they failed to uphold the Stewart-defined standard of full-bore advocacy by declining to carry illegal messages? Are they less worthy because they confine their representation to the courts, without becoming the political alter egos of their clients? STEWART AS EXAMPLE Inevitably, Stewart also invoked the dread “chilling effect” as a defense. Although she did not exactly scorn lesser lawyers — the kind who do not adopt her reckless, full-service model — she worried that unpopular clients may be getting inadequate representation because their attorneys have been intimidated by the government. Her great concern, she wrote Koeltl, is that fear of being the next Lynne Stewart will cause these lawyers to act timidly, choosing tactics that won’t anger the government. Her arrogance is breathtaking. Does she really believe that her conviction — for running errands for terrorists, then lying about it — will deter honest defense attorneys from doing their jobs? Does she really think that other lawyers would readily engage in similarly unlawful (or even borderline) conduct if only they did not have to worry about prosecution? Thankfully, Stewart is dead wrong. The defense bar understands its obligations, and many admirable lawyers have vigorously represented accused terrorists, detainees, and so-called enemy combatants with no lack of ardor or commitment, and often with considerable success. Her own trial counsel, the estimable Michael Tigar, certainly showed no diminution of zeal on her behalf. Why should others? Alas, Stewart will never concede that ordinary lawyers can do the right thing, unafraid of indictment because they are uninvolved in their clients’ political movements. In her paradigm, the government is always mendacious, and furious resistance — of the sort she practiced — is always pure of heart. She has said repeatedly that she is proud of her representation of Abdel-Rahman and would do it again. Honorable lawyers know better. So rather than feel sorry for Lynne Stewart, I suggest that we all feel proud of the rest of the defense bar — the lawyers who truly uphold the ideals of advocacy within the bounds of the law.
Steven Lubet teaches law at Northwestern University. His latest book is Lawyers’ Poker (Oxford University Press, 2006). This article first appeared in The American Lawyer , an ALM publication.

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