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Much of the indictment boils down to this: She allegedly helped her imprisoned client get messages out to the public. Prosecutors also say she helped spread a lie about the government’s refusal to give her client insulin shots. To some criminal defense lawyers, the charges unveiled last week against New York lawyer Lynne Stewart seemed ridiculous, yet another overzealous attempt by the Justice Department to slap down lawyers who aggressively represent their clients. Then again, Lynne Stewart is no ordinary lawyer, and her client, Sheik Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman, is no ordinary convict. And the government’s case against Stewart is no ordinary prosecution of a criminal defense lawyer. In the past, such cases have often focused on money. The Stewart prosecution turns on a more arcane legal matter: her alleged violation of an administrative agreement she entered into with the federal government. Stewart’s case could take on broader meaning at a time when the government is asking lawyers who represent terror suspects to agree to extraordinary measures in the interest of public safety. In announcing the indictment of Stewart and three co-defendants on April 9, Attorney General John Ashcroft cited the so-called Special Administrative Measures (SAM), which Ashcroft said were being applied in the cases of 15 other prisoners and their attorneys. “Today’s indictment charges four individuals — including Rahman’s lawyer, a United States citizen — with aiding Sheik Abdel-Rahman in continuing to direct the terrorist activities of the Islamic Group from his prison cell in the United States,” Ashcroft said. “The terrorist movement at the center of the facts alleged in this indictment, the Islamic Group, has as its credo a message of hate that is now tragically familiar to Americans. … The Islamic Group is a global terrorist organization that has forged alliances with other terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.” Rahman, referred to frequently as “the blind cleric,” is a purported leader of the Islamic Group, which has been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations for the past five years. The group took responsibility for massacring 58 tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997, an attack launched to press for Rahman’s release. Rahman is serving a life sentence for his 1995 conviction for plotting to blow up New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the United Nations building. Since 1997, he has been imprisoned and subject to a Special Administrative Measure that severely restricts his communications with those beyond his cell walls. As Rahman’s lawyer, Stewart, too, has been bound by those restrictions. According to the indictment, Stewart herself signed agreements with the government not to pass messages between the outside world and Rahman. And therein lies the heart of the indictment, which accuses Stewart of providing material support to the Islamic Group, defrauding the United States, and making false statements by either passing messages from the sheik to outsiders or facilitating his communications with members of the Islamic Group. “My client denies that she committed any crimes. She denies that she did anything wrong,” says Susan Tipograph, a New York lawyer who represents Stewart in this matter. “I think it’s an attempt to send a message to the legal community: ‘If you represent people who we, the Justice Department, determine to be social pariahs, whether we call them terrorists or predators, there’s going to be a price to pay.’” Other defense lawyers see it the same way. “The indictment is attenuated as it is,” says David Ruhnke, a Montclair, N.J., defense lawyer who represents one of the men convicted of bombing the American Embassy in Tanzania in 1998. “It strikes me as an enormous leap by the government to go from potential violations of administrative regulations to some theory that the government has been defrauded by an admittedly outspoken attorney.” Ruhnke talks from experience. He had to agree to a SAM in order to communicate with his client Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. “The SAMs are quite restrictive,” he says. “It’s easy to imagine yourself unwittingly violating part of it. If the government was accurate, there was a pretty blatant violation of it in [the Stewart] case. Still, it leads to a big ‘so what.’” James Comey Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, did not respond to requests for comment. The government’s push for special administrative measures in other cases is already meeting with resistance. Late last month, lawyers for accused shoe bomber Richard Reid refused to sign a SAM. Chief Judge William Young, who is presiding over the case, allowed the lawyers to abstain from signing the DOJ directive, but told them not to repeat anything Reid says with anyone outside the defense team. FACING 40 YEARS Prosecutors could hardly have picked a better target than Stewart, who has represented some of the nation’s most unpopular defendants, including Mafia hit man Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and members of the radical group Weather Underground. In the past, Stewart has spoken of her support of targeted violence. She’s the kind of defense lawyer a fellow Manhattan defense attorney says “you would expect to represent Osama bin Laden.” Stewart, 62, faces 40 years in prison if convicted of all charges. The 24-page indictment is a patchwork of facts and allegations about Stewart, Rahman, Stewart’s alleged co-conspirators, and the activities of the Islamic Group. The indictment alleges that Stewart helped Rahman disseminate his messages to members of the Islamic Group on several occasions. The most detailed of the allegations arise from a May 2000 visit Stewart made to the 63-year-old Rahman at his hospital prison in Minnesota. That June, the indictment alleges, Rahman issued another statement calling for the Islamic Group to abandon a cease-fire struck between different factions within the group. The indictment says Stewart was quoted in media outlets delivering the sheik’s message; Tipograph acknowledges that Stewart made those statements. Tipograph declines to discuss any of the other acts alleged by prosecutors. The indictment claims that Stewart allowed Rahman to have private conversations with her Justice Department-approved interpreter, Mohammed Yousry, a co-defendant in the current case who was allegedly acting as a conduit between Rahman and the Islamic Group. The timing of the indictment, a full two years after the alleged criminal activities took place, has raised eyebrows. Last October, the Justice Department changed Bureau of Prison rules to allow the monitoring of attorney-client communications in certain cases where SAMs are already in place. And in announcing the indictment, Attorney General Ashcroft noted that the Stewart investigation was the reason for the regulation change. Just two weeks prior to the indictment, Manhattan defense attorney Frederick Cohn won funding under the Criminal Justice Act to challenge the constitutionality of the October 2001 regulations. He plans to file by the end of the month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “The indictment seems to be a response to the biting criticism to Aschroft’s initiative to monitor attorney client relationships in terrorism cases,” says Seattle Federal Public Defender Thomas Hillier, who represents millennium bombing conspirator Ahmed Ressam. “The timing of this indictment suggests that he’s trying to take some of the steam out of that criticism and increase his chances of sustaining its constitutionality in a court of law by saying, ‘This [regulation permitting attorney-client monitoring] is necessary, you see.’” MIXED RESULTS ON PAST CASES The fanfare surrounding the indictment of Stewart is similar to past instances when the federal government has accused lawyers of conspiring with their clients. For the past two decades, the federal government on occasion has turned its sights on lawyers when trying to bring down criminal enterprises — most often in drug-smuggling operations. And every time a lawyer is included in such an indictment, the defense bar goes wild, claiming that the government is overreaching in an attempt to chill defense advocacy. But the results of such prosecutions have been mixed. The government has had some success — mostly in securing guilty pleas from some lawyers. But many high-profile cases that have gone to trial ended in acquittals. And trial judges or appellate panels have routinely thrown out the more serious conspiracy charges or convictions. Defense lawyers like to point to the case of prominent San Francisco attorney Patrick Hallinan as an example of the government’s failed attempt to lump the work of a lawyer with the alleged misdeeds of his client. Hallinan was accused of helping Ciro Mancuso operate a marijuana smuggling ring. During a 1995 trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, the government used Mancuso as its chief witness against Hallinan. Prior to the case reaching a jury, the trial judge threw out the five racketeering charges in the 18-count indictment. The jury deliberated for just five hours before acquitting Hallinan of all charges. Then there’s the case of former Justice Department official Michael Abbell and Miami lawyer William Moran. Abbell and Moran were targeted along with several other lawyers for their roles in representing members of the Cali cocaine cartel. In 1995, Abbell and Moran were charged in federal court in Miami along with 57 other defendants with racketeering, money laundering, and importation and distribution of cocaine. The prosecution used evidence and testimony from other Miami lawyers who pleaded guilty to lesser charges. The first trial ended in a mistrial after jurors dismissed one of the racketeering charges, but couldn’t reach an agreement on the laundering and distribution counts. The two were convicted of racketeering and money laundering after a second trial in 1998. The case has taken several bizarre twists since, and Abbell, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, remains free on bond while awaiting sentencing. “It is incredibly intimidating to believe that advocating on a client’s behalf can in essence make you a third-party defendant,” says Henry Asbill of Washington, D.C.’s Asbill, Moffitt & Boss, who represented Abbell at his second trial.

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