Lynne Stewart (AP/Mark Lennihan)
On March 7, Lynne Stewart died peacefully at her home in her beloved Brooklyn with her family at her side. As many know, Lynne was ordered released from federal prison on Dec. 31, 2013 after a legal and political campaign to win her compassionate release due to her ongoing battle with breast cancer. Doctors from both behind the wall and in the street predicted she would succumb to the disease in six to 18 months. Through strength and determination, she lived for more than 36 months and was able to spend time with family and continue the work for justice that characterized her entire life.
I first came to know of Lynne in the 1980s when she defended one of several black and white activists charged with violating RICO laws. Her skill won an acquittal for her client, Bilal Sunni Ali. In 1985, we both were part of a defense team for a group of white activists who became known as the “Ohio 7″ on trial in Brooklyn federal court. Working with Lynne and the other members of the team, including Bill Kunstler and Liz Fink, both also gone, was an education for me that no law school or CLE could come close to duplicating.
What many do not know is that Lynne was a “full service” lawyer. If you were her client, she not only fought brilliantly in court, she felt it was her responsibility to take care of her clients’ needs: clothes, making sure the clients had commissary money, facilitating visits with family. On more than one occasion, she hired former clients or members of their family to work in her office when they had no other income. At other times, she took clients and/or the children of clients into her home when they had no place to go. Lynne had a big heart. Since her release and especially in the last few months of her life, Lynne and her husband and partner Ralph Poynter increasingly urged those of us in the activist-lawyer community to dedicate ourselves to fighting racism and injustice. Our finest tribute to Lynne will be to make that a reality.
Robert J. Boyle
The writer is a solo practitioner who, with Jill Shellow,
helped to secure a compassionate release for Stewart