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Lynne Stewart’s fight to clear herself of charges she aided a terrorist group and lied to the government was in her own hands Monday as the veteran attorney took the witness stand in federal court. Speaking in a relaxed, informal manner before the jury, Stewart said she knew her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, advocated violence when she chose to represent him at his 1995 trial for seditious conspiracy against the United States, but that she did not share his views. “No, I’m my own person,” Stewart said during the first of what is expected to be several days testifying in the case. “I have my own politics. I am not fundamentalist.” Stewart is accused of helping the sheikh pass messages to his followers in Islamic Group from behind bars, where he is serving a life sentence. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy in a plot to bomb bridges, tunnels and other New York City landmarks. Some of his followers were convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Chief among Stewart’s offenses, the government alleges, is that she helped send a message to Islamic Group in Egypt in which the sheikh withdrew his support for a cessation on terror attacks against the Egyptian government — and that she lied to the government when she promised to abide by special prison orders forbidding the sheikh from communicating with people beyond the prison walls. Also charged in the case is interpreter Mohammed Yousry, who accompanied Stewart on her prison visits to the sheikh and is accused of providing material support to a terror group. A third defendant, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, the sheikh’s spokesman and right hand man, is charged with the most serious count in the indictment, conspiring to kidnap and kill people in a foreign country. Defense attorney Michael Tigar has promised from the beginning that he would present Stewart as a zealous advocate for her client who never endorsed the use of terrorism to further the goals of the sheikh and Islamic Group. Tigar has argued that Stewart is the victim of government overreaching and the indictment against her amounts to penalizing her for fulfilling her obligations as an attorney. That was the theme yesterday as Stewart described her evolution from a librarian and schoolteacher to an attorney passionately working for social and political change in America. Stewart said she was advised by colleagues not to represent the sheikh when she was approached for the job in 1994. She said that “people felt it would hurt my career and I should stay with home-grown politics.” LEGAL PHILOSOPHY But Stewart also provided some insight into her philosophy as a lawyer. “Under the rules of ethics, we are bound to accept cases — even for those who are hated by the general public,” she said. When Tigar asked her about the sheikh’s advocacy of violence, Stewart insisted it is a lawyer’s job to represent clients while not necessarily sharing their beliefs. That is an important issue in the case since the government claims she does, in fact, support at least some of the goals, and some of the methods, of Islamic Group and other terror organizations. “I knew that was part of [the sheikh's] background,” she said. “But you know, I’ve represented many people and you take them as they are.” Asked again about adopting a client’s political views, Stewart said that, with lawyering, “you have to take a step to the side and view the case dispassionately.” Prosecutors Christopher Morvillo, Robin Baker, Andrew Dember and Anthony Barkow charge that Stewart’s continued representation of the sheikh long after his criminal trial, and her decision to break a promise to the government to abide by prison measures designed to keep him isolated, went far beyond the proper role of an attorney, and involved fighting not for the client, but for the cause. The direct examination of Stewart is expected to last at least until today.

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