Feb. 11, 2005 – A prominent civil rights attorney and two of her assistants were convicted today of providing illegal services to their client, a convicted terrorist. In a case that was closely watched by civil rights and lawyersâ€™ groups, the trial of Lynne Stewart, Ahmed Sattar, and Mohamed Yousry was considered by many to be a test case for the governmentâ€™s increased restrictions on lawyers defending terrorism suspects.
Stewart and her colleagues were first indicted in April 2002 of providing material support to terrorism by assisting their client, Islamic Group spiritual leader Sheikh Abdel Rahman, by passing messages to his followers in violation of prison regulations imposed on him. Rahman was convicted of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
During the trial, several prominent legal organizations condemned the governmentâ€™s indictment of Stewart, suggesting that the government was making an example out of Stewart in its quest to justify a new policy of monitoring conversations between lawyers and some inmates. Many worried that the charges would have a "chilling effect" on lawyers who ardently provide legal defense to their clients.
Newly confirmed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed yesterdayâ€™s verdict as a victory and said it sends "a clear, unmistakable message that this Department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals."
Nevertheless, Stewart vowed to fight on. In a teary address to the media and some of her supporters outside the courthouse, she called herself a "poster child for John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act" and said: "You canâ€™t tell the lawyers how to do their job. Youâ€™ve got to let them operateâ€¦ I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right."
If the juryâ€™s verdict holds up to appeal, the 65-year-old Stewart faces up to 30 years in prison. Sattar, who worked as a parlegal for Rahman, and Yousry, who served as the Sheikâ€™s translator face life in prison and 20 years respectively.