Manhattan attorney Lynne Stewart (R) speaks to the news media after leaving the United States Courthouse April 9, 2002 in New York City.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of a disbarred civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case, forcing her to surrender immediately and requiring a judge to consider whether her prison sentence of a little over two years was too lenient.
Lynne Stewart, 70, has been free on appeal since she was sentenced in 2006. The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its nearly 200-page ruling almost two years after hearing arguments in the case.
"To say that I am disappointed after 7 1/2 years would be an understatement,'' Stewart wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. She said she had not yet spoken to her lawyer but that she was planning a news conference for later Tuesday.
Stewart was sentenced to two years and four months in prison after she was found guilty of passing messages between her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, and senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization. Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence after he was convicted 14 years ago in conspiracies to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The appeals court suggested that Stewart's sentence was too lenient, especially when compared with the 20-month prison term given to her co-defendant, Mohammed Yousry, a translator who was working for her.
The appeals court said the sentencing judge can also reconsider the sentences of Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a former postal worker, depending on what the judge decides with Stewart. The court also ordered Yousry to begin serving his sentence. Sattar is already serving his 24-year sentence.
In its ruling, the appeals court said Stewart can be resentenced because Judge John G. Koeltl declined to determine at sentencing whether Stewart committed perjury when she testified at her trial.
The appeals court said it was necessary for the judge to make the determination because of "the seriousness of her criminal conduct, her responsibilities as a member of the bar and her role as counsel for Abdel-Rahman.''
It added: ``We think that whether Stewart lied under oath at her trial is directly relevant to whether her sentence was appropriate. ... Any cover-up or attempt to evade responsibility by a failure to tell the truth upon oath or affirmation at her trial would compound the gravity of her crime.''
In a partial dissent to the ruling, Judge John Walker complained that the appeals court did not go far enough, saying it should have rejected Stewart's sentence as "substantively unreasonable'' and required resentencing on that basis.
Another judge, Guido Calabresi, said in his own concurring opinion that he believed two other lawyers for Abdel-Rahman might have violated their agreements not to help their client communicate with the outside world.
The judge noted that one lawyer read newspaper articles and letters from followers to Abdel Rahman while another acknowledged issuing a statement to the media on behalf of Abdel-Rahman.
He said he did not believe prosecutors acted improperly by choosing not to prosecute others but he thought it was "another, perhaps uncomfortable, issue'' deserving discussion.
In a footnote to its ruling, the appeals court noted that, after sentencing, Stewart was quoted as saying that two years in jail was nothing to look forward to, but, she could ``do that standing on my head.''
The appeals court said: "Whether Stewart made this statement in full, in part, or not at all, is obviously entirely irrelevant to any of the issues before us.''
Stewart's lawyer, Joshua Dratel, did not immediately return a call for comment. Prosecutors did not immediately comment.