(CN) – The 2nd Circuit on Tuesday rejected bail for disbarred civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of smuggling messages from terrorist Sheikh Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel Rahman, a high-security prisoner.
The New York-based appeals court ordered Stewart, 70, to surrender and begin serving the jail time handed down by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in 2006.
Stewart’s former client, Rahman, is serving a life sentence in maximum-security prison for terrorism-related crimes, including conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was heavily restricted from communicating with people outside the maximum-security prison in an effort to keep him from leading terrorist organizations and their members from behind bars.
The 2nd Circuit upheld the convictions of Stewart; her Arabic translator, Mohamed Yousry; and former paralegal, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, for their roles in aiding terrorist conspiracies. Stewart and Sattar were convicted of providing and concealing material support to terrorists – a federal crime of terrorism.
Stewart’s sentence was considerably lighter than the life sentence requested by prosecutors, and a step heavier than her bid for no jail time. Judge Koeltl declined to apply a terrorism enhancement, concluding that it was “dramatically unreasonable” and “overstates the seriousness of [her] past conduct and the likelihood that [she] will repeat the offense.”
Koeltl said the terrorism enhancement did not apply to Yousry. Sattar is already serving his 24-year sentence.
Stewart has been free on bail pending appeal of her 2005 conviction. She asserted immunity, arguing that she’d been trying to serve as a “zealous advocate” for her client. She also claimed that she was singled out for prosecution based on her gender and political beliefs, as other attorneys who sidestepped the communication ban weren’t charged.
The three-judge panel rejected these claims and ordered the lower court to reconsider Stewart’s sentence, saying 28 months in jail may have been too light.
“Because the district court declined to find whether Stewart committed perjury at trial, we cannot conclude that the mitigating factors found to support her sentence can reasonably bear the weight assigned to them,” Judge Robert Sack wrote. “This is so particularly in light of the seriousness of her criminal conduct, her responsibilities as a member of the bar, and her role as counsel for Abdel Rahman.”
In a partial dissent, Judge John M. Walker Jr. criticized Stewart’s “breathtakingly low” sentence, saying the majority “fails to recognize that this sentence trivializes Stewart’s extremely serious conduct with a ‘slap on the wrist’ that is substantively unreasonable.”
He pointed out that the messages Stewart delivered from Rahman included his withdrawal of support for a cease-fire in Egypt, “an action that effectively sanctioned renewed terrorist attacks and indiscriminate loss of human life.”