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The students of City University of New York School of Law presented embattled left-wing defense attorney Lynne Stewart with its Public Interest Lawyer of the Year Award May 1 in an auditorium on the campus in Flushing, Queens. The ceremony was held that day rather than at graduation after CUNY Law’s dean had expressed concern that the institution could be denied budget funding or closed if Stewart were to be honored by the graduating class at formal commencement exercises May 23, according to several sources. In accepting the honor before a cheering audience of more than 200, Stewart, who is under federal indictment for conspiracy to support a terrorist organization, delivered a defiant lecture on the importance of lawyers challenging the government. She also expressed displeasure with CUNY Law Dean Kristin Booth Glen, a friend of many years’ standing. Glen did not attend the event. Two of CUNY Law’s approximately 40 faculty members — Professors Sidney L. Harring and Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier — did attend. As for others who might have shown, Stewart said, “People I’ve counted on to be my support have abandoned me.” Of Dean Glen in particular, who said there could be at least a financial impact on the school with a commencement venue honoring an indicted lawyer, Stewart said, “I actually don’t believe that [U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft is going to walk in here now with a big sack of cash and dump it on Kris Glen’s desk.” Stewart was indicted last year when prison conversations with her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted for seditious conspiracy, were monitored under emergency regulations put in place by Ashcroft. Much of Thursday’s hourlong CUNY Law program included reaction to a statement released by Dean Glen expressing concerns over financial repercussions from “sources who won’t listen” to ideals such as freedom of speech, presumptive innocence and attorney-client privilege. During a tense meeting with students last week, a number of attendees said Glen expressed fear that CUNY Law could actually be closed. According to Michael T. Ede, a third-year CUNY Law student, this dire possibility was stated when students pushed the dean for specifics. “She proceeded to tell us that based on conversations with trustees — she repeatedly used the word trustees — her decision would have two results,” said Ede, 32, who holds a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University. “She said the chancellor [Matthew Goldstein], the Queens Borough president [Helen Marshall] and other officials would refuse to go to graduation. “Then [Dean Glen] mentioned the possibility of the school being closed down, with no specifics on who could or would shut it down. “At that point, you could have heard a pin drop,” said Ede. “Comments after that were evenly divided between those who wanted to defer to the dean, and others who thought that the threat ought to be challenged.” Three other attendees, all of whom requested anonymity, agreed with Ede’s version of what took place at the meeting. Calls to Chancellor Goldstein’s office for comment were not returned, nor were calls to Borough President Marshall’s office. Calls to CUNY Board of Trustees Chair Benno C. Schmidt Jr. were also not returned. Chancellor Goldstein, like Schmidt, was appointed to his post by Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican. All other trustees were appointed by either the governor, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, both Republicans. ACCOUNTABILITY A CONCERN Dean Glen has declined comment beyond a written statement issued two weeks ago. “As a public institution that is part of a public university [CUNY Law] is accountable to many constituencies and is dependent on the university and state officials for its existence,” said the statement, which was circulated by e-mail to third-year students April 23, and later to reporters seeking comment. After going on further to laud American legal values, the statement said: “Unfortunately, Lynne Stewart has become a symbol laden with implications beyond these values. Try as we might to explain what is intended by the honor, we will not be able to escape the consequences that come from sources unwilling to listen or who might seize this opportunity to malign the law school, its graduates or its mission.” John M. Farago, who teaches civil procedure at CUNY Law, attended a faculty meeting called on April 22 by Glen after the student meeting. He said that he supported the dean’s decision. At the faculty meeting, Professor Farago said Glen told faculty members, “There have been calls to close the law school.” He added, “She said she’s in regular consultation with the chancellor and [trustees].” Farago said Glen felt that to allow Stewart to appear at commencement “would be risky in a couple of ways — creating division within the community at a time that people want to celebrate coming together, and in the sense that it would provide fuel to those who would like to see the law school closed.” State Sen. Serphin R. Maltese, R-Queens, a member of the Senate Education Committee, told the New York Law Journal, “I have not heard anybody [in the state Senate] make any kind of budgetary threat. At the same time, I am certain that many of my colleagues object to the award being given [during commencement] to a person who’s been indicted and who, by her public utterances, has cast discredit on the legal profession.” SOLOMONIC DECISION “Dean Glen’s decision was correct,” Maltese said. “There are always people in the woodwork somewhere who will take a single episode and blow it out of proportion, and the school does have a reputation of attracting social activists. There are going to be people who allocate funds who are going to say there are better ways we can spend it.” Maltese said that honoring Stewart in a smaller and less-public venue, a decision taken by the Criminal Law Society, a student group, was “Solomon-like.” “Maybe the students won’t be entirely satisfied with it,” he said, “but it solves the First Amendment problem.” Indeed, many students are unsatisfied. “There is a shared perception that the school is vulnerable because of the low bar-pass rate,” said Edward Campanelli, 32, a graduating student at CUNY Law who earned an undergraduate degree in film and television from New York University. “Fear of the law school closing down is real. The dean and the faculty have expressed this fear.” Michael Tigar of the Washington College of Law at American University, who is Stewart’s defense counsel, said powerful people such as politicians and institutional trustees “thrive on fear by making threats every day.” He added, “It’s the job of the lawyers to deal with threats on behalf of their clients.” Ede said the CUNY Law campus seems gripped by imagined threats, and added, “It’s as if threat somehow equals reality.”

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