A judge was poised to decide whether the government and some fellow judges were right when they said a 70-year-old former civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case received too much leniency when she was sentenced to just over two years in prison.
U.S. District Judge John Koeltl was to resentence attorney Lynne Stewart on Thursday after considering the comments of appeals court judges who said he should review the role of terrorism in her case and consider if she lied when she testified at her trial.
Stewart, facing up to 30 years in prison, was sentenced to two years and four months after her conviction on charges that she let blind Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman communicate with a man who relayed messages to senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization.
Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence for conspiracies to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Stewart represented him at his 1995 trial.
Stewart was sentenced in 2006 but was permitted to remain free until the appeals court ruled last November.
Initially, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a resentencing that did not seem to pressure Koeltl to boost the length of the sentence considerably. But it revised its decision a month later, saying it had "serious doubts" whether her sentence was reasonable.
The appeals court said Koeltl might have erred if he decided the terrorism enhancement should not be applied because of Stewart's personal characteristics.
At the first sentencing, Koeltl described Stewart as "extraordinary," a dedicated public servant who had "represented the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular, often as a court-appointed attorney," thus providing a "service not only to her clients but to the nation."
About 100 supporters of Stewart marched past the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan on Wednesday evening, carrying signs that said "Free Lynne Stewart" and "We Stand With Lynne Stewart." They then walked around the corner to the federal prison where Stewart is held and rallied there.
In court papers, prosecutors have asked for Stewart to receive a "severe sentence" of between 15 and 30 years in prison, saying she had carried out a plan to smuggle terrorist messages from Abdel-Rahman to his Middle East followers and had engaged in "extraordinarily severe criminal conduct."
"In short," they said, "Stewart and her co-defendants provided material support to a terrorist organization and to the commission of a terrorism crime."
Defense lawyers wrote that Koeltl should not increase Stewart's sentence. They noted that several 2nd Circuit judges had called for Stewart to receive a long prison term.
"We are angry, and rightly so, at defendants who are convicted of terrorism-related crimes," they wrote. "The judges of the Second Circuit are clearly angry. Many of them believe that Ms. Stewart deserves a lengthy sentence. But Ms. Stewart's sentence is not before them."
The lawyers said only Koeltl knew what was best after presiding over the nearly nine-month trial.
Stewart wrote the judge a nine-page letter seeking leniency and declaring, "I am not a traitor." After some soul searching, she wrote, she had concluded that a careless over-devotion to her clients was her undoing.