Volume 19 • Issue 20 | Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

Lynne Stewart gets a hug from a supporter Tuesday night at St. Mark’s Church.

Lynne Stewart upbeat as threat of jail looms

By Lori Haught

Radical Lower East Side attorney, Lynne Stewart, 67, was happy and optimistic at a gathering held in the East Village Tuesday night, even if it was to honor her before she is sentenced to up to 30 years in jail.

Although no one will know her sentence until the Oct. 16 sentencing, the prosecution is asking for 30 years while the defense is requesting house arrest.

The Sept. 26 event at St. Mark’s Church included many of her friends and neighbors from the Lower East Side, where she lived until recently, as well as a documentary on Stewart made by Paul Chan. The as-yet-untitled short film will also be shown in February at the Sundance Film Festival.

Stewart entered the room to a round of applause, and sat with her husband, Ralph Poynter, holding her for most of the evening as outraged friends and family spoke about her and the “injustice of the justice system.”

She cried once in the documentary, despite her bright eyes at the party, when talking about her children and grandchildren. “I don’t want them to hurt and I know they will all hurt,” she said about her family if she goes to jail.

As for being afraid, Stewart said Tuesday she’s spent most of her adult life in jails; the jail itself and the inmates don’t scare her.

“I’ll be queen as a defense attorney!” she told Downtown Express. “But I don’t like the thought of some technician who thinks he is fighting terrorism sticking a needle in my arm [for a blood sample].”

Stewart was convicted of aiding a terrorist conspiracy by helping deliver a message from her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, leader of Al-Gam a’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian Islamic group classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. She had signed an agreement not to help the sheikh communicate from prison and his message denounced a cease-fire his group was considering.

Many of the 50 or so supporters Tuesday night thought the government’s case against Stewart was meant to “remove her from the fight.”

“I don’t need to tell you what an obscenity it is for them to even threaten 30 years,” said Frank Morales, assistant pastor at St. Mark’s.

The lawyers in Stewart’s defense and prosecution presented the last of the evidence to the U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koetl in the sentencing hearing on Sept. 26. He will sentence her on Oct. 16 and Stewart is expected to go to jail immediately. Friends of Stewart will rally outside the courthouse at Foley Square at 8 a.m. the morning of sentencing. Before she was disbarred, Stewart’s law office was near the Lower Manhattan courts.

“You usually have to die to find out how much people love you,” Stewart said of the outpouring of support and the nearly 800 letters that were sent to the judge. She pointed out that Judge Koetl showed leniency toward Anne Compoccia, the former chairperson of Community Board 1, a few years ago when he received hundreds of letters of support after she pleaded guilty to misusing city funds.

“I do feel that there will be a certain gap if I’m taken out of here,” she said. Stewart, a breast cancer survivor, said she is confident that with as much support as she has, she can overcome whatever the judge throws at her.


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