We need 10,000 lawyers like Lynn Stewart...


root - Posted on 02 March 2003

PNN Community Journalists interview Lynn Stewart, the lawyer being prosecuted by The New witch-hunts disguised as "The Patriot Act"

by Valerie Schwartz/PNN Community Journalist and Poverty Scholar (with Alex Cuff/PNN)

As a person who has been incarcerated in two different California Prisons a total of 7 trips, in and out of the California Department of Corrections, done a lot of county-time, and Lord only knows how many court appearances: I have experienced and lived through the importance of client attorney privileges and also the devastating results of what we con's call a "dump-truck", this saying refers to an attorney who does not have his clients best interests at heart and unfortunately, as well as some public defenders and court appointed attorneys who basically work in the DA's framework and thus do no more than prepare the client for a plea bargain in many cases.

Therefore, legal rights and the civil rights guaranteed by our constitution are important to me: especially when it seems as if the way is being paved to take them away. I went to hear Lynne Stewart speak at the Bay Area Women's Building about her case and what is happening with our First Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights in the age of new witch-hunts against "terrorism" by our Attorney General and the Department of Justice. Heretics beware, this is some scary shit.

"Whatever I did, I did as a lawyer" said Lynne Stewart. Who is Lynne Stewart some of you might be asking? Lynne Stewart is an attorney from New York who is an activist attorney who has represented many clients that other attorneys would not, especially as a court appointed lawyer, not private. Lynne Stewart has been indicted by US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, under the Patriot Act for making a press release on behalf of her client Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in May 2000. She has been accused by Ashcroft and the Department of Justice for allegedly "materially aiding a terrorist organization" by making the press release on behalf of the Sheik. The Patriot Act did not even exist in the May 2000, but nonetheless: she was arrested at her home in 2002, and given a four-count indictment. (Lynn was first arrested under the 1996 Anti-terrorist act and served with a warrant under the guidelines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act)

"Okay, I do think I was targeted", Lynne responded when I asked her if she felt Ashcroft specifically targeted her. Lynne then said, "I think he needed a scapegoat in that instance and he picked me out because of my long time activism and I think he miscalculated and thought I would not garner too much support." "I think he thought he could get away with this. I don't think he ever expected the amount of support I've been able to get."

Lynne started working at age twenty-two in Harlem. She described her self as a "nice-white-girl" from the suburbs. Lynne said, "I'd never known that Harlem existed, that Black people were ghettoized in this way. I started asking questions, was very unhappy with the answers--which were basically racist answers--and got some of my own answers out there." She met her husband Ralph Poynter, forty-years ago, and they worked together. Lynne says, "He of course had been Black for along time and active for a long time." Then they together became very deeply involved in the community control of schools in New York and she relayed that Ralph was leadership in that --which became co-opted--and they moved on. By 1971 she was "active" and went to law school, Ralph was forced out as a teacher and opened his own business and they went on from there.

Lynne has a history of advocating for and representing people whom other lawyers were ambivalent about or had no interest in defending. She has defended: David Gilbert, member of the Weather-Underground, Shakur Odinga who was from The Black Liberation Army and a former Panther, Richard Williams who was a member of the Ohio 7 and accused of being a member of the United Freedom Front which had basically conducted political acts which they considered as a group to be non-violent. This including bombings that they forewarned about, as so no one would be hurt, against South African Airways. Lynne also said that she had defended, "Numerous others, countless demonstrators in New York who were against the Gulf War or against Rockefeller's drug laws."

The Sheik is now serving a life-sentence for planning to blow up New York City landmarks in 1993. While counseling the Sheik, Lynne and the Sheik both had to sign what is called a "Special Administrative Measure", or referred to as a SAM. "Which lawyers and people we represent must sign to say that you will not communicate with the press on behalf of your client, thus making it impossible for any First Amendment right to be protected." Lynne Stewart during interview with Mumia Abu Jamal.

After Lynne's press release through Reuters she waited for six months to find out if she would be allowed to go back in the prison to see her client and finally they allowed her and an interpreter to go back in to see the Sheik. They had set up tape recorders and cameras to listen in on and film all the attorney client privileges, i.e. all of their legal visits for the purpose of counsel. Now she is on trial and fighting for her own freedom as the press release she made on behalf of her client was done in "contravention" of the SAM. Lynne says, "All we have when we represent political people... all we have is truth , honesty, and integrity."

Susan Dorton who emceed the event for Lynne's Defense, which was sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, and the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee said, "This is about the loss of civil rights for all of us" and relayed, "Lynne's case is about Lynne's liberty." After Susan was finished another guest speaker, Luis Talamantez (Bato), a former member of the San Quentin 6, spoke about the importance of client/attorney privilege. Bato then said, "We need 10,000 lawyers like Lynne Stewart for our prisoners in our system" and followed it up with, "disenfranchised prisoners and the poor people consider Lynne Stewart the advocate of the people."

When Lynne was arrested at her home, not only did they take her but they also took her computer, and her files and along with that, the attorney /client privilege of her other clients as well. It was hard to look at the grandmother of seven children, an older woman, speak of our rights and loss of them, because I know very well how it feels to lose your freedom. Then after a pause Lynne said, "Not only do I face forty-years, for forty-years I've been a critic of the government." It is beginning to feel like a new Mc Carthy era is coming around. I am more than sure the blacklisting has already begun.

I asked Lynne, “Does the Sheik have wealth and privileges?

“ No, well no he was a blind child that was left at the mosque and he was left at the Mosque because he couldn’t work and those children of third world countries dressed like black blind people in Mississippi were often discarded…He has very little resources, his family is in Egypt and in the traditional Moslem household his sons of course support his wife and their younger brothers and sisters but he has virtually no resources. We did the case, I think we earned a pittance compared to what the people appointed by the state in that case earned.”

“I have a personal question”, I asked, “as an ex-convict myself and a person who has done time. I read in your interview with Mumia, that the Sheik was only allowed to correspond with his wife once a month, was this via the mail or by phone call?"

“He was given a phone call but it was listened in on and when he…actually his son got on the phone and he spoke to him for a few minutes probably nothing much more than greetings. They then suspended those phone calls for the next three months to punish him for speaking to someone other than his wife on the phone. He was also allowed to call his lawyers, no great thing I guess but it saved him from being completely cut off.

The reasons why I wanted to know about whether the Sheik had privilege, wealth, and ability as to how he was able to correspond: was because when I was in prison I couldn’t even call Child Protective Services, the Juvenile Court or the social worker appointed to deal with my parental rights. The only calls I was allowed to make were collect so you can very well imagine how separated you are from resources when incarcerated and even calling your attorney is not always possible and by the time you hustle up a stamp and get something mailed off… it is too late. The mail is tediously slow in prison.

The other reason I asked about wealth and privilege is because I believe most Americans relate the word “Sheik” to wealth , power, privilege and prestige and that it was important to have clarification, not that it invalidates his case, but I like to have a better sense of the information I am trying to convey.

I asked Lynne how people in poverty would be affected by the Patriot Act. Sounding very sure she said, “ The heel of government always falls harshest on those who have the least resources to resist it. So, I think that then when they start targeting people who may have an affinity for let us say Muslim causes or they have attended a lecture and now they’re looking to say, ‘you were part of it’; they will have the least ability to resist this kind of thing. I also think that of course people with less resources are least able to get out there and do the kind of work to oppose this kind of law that really touches every one of us. When they start asking the librarians what books we take out - ya know, who uses the public library more than people of low income? So I think that of course it always cuts harshest against those with the least resources because this is a nation that worships the almighty dollar and has very short thrift for people who don’t have those dollars”.

I then asked Ms. Stewart, “How will clients who have dealt with racial profiling be affected?

With what I determined was a sigh combined with a quick and very frank answer Lynne replied, “ Well I think actually 9-11 did more to affect racial profiling than anything else because it sort of made it acceptable: in other words the government is now doing all manner of racial profiling. As Bato (Luis Talamantez) said - he’s Mexican - he gets stopped at the airport every time, because he looks like what they consider a terrorist a terrorist to look like. So, I think that racial profiling will continue bigger and better and will be granted a free passage by most Americans because it doesn’t ever effect them: It only affects people of color.”

I asked Lynne, “Do you believe that most of the corporate media’s policies back the Patriot Act?"

“ Well I think so, they pretty much know that this is something that they don’t need to be afraid of. I said to someone once, I said you know the attorney client privilege is used more—by like—guys from Enron who are planning to file bankruptcy than it is by criminalized poor, or the clients we represent. But they know they are never going to listen in on their conversations because they are part of the people who are doing the listening. So, it doesn’t effect them at all in the same way… and the fact that it doesn’t… means that: we are not really getting any support from the corporate sector of the legal profession.”

Alex, my colleague from PNN questioned, “Were they listening in on your conversations before 2000, before the Patriot Act?”

Lynne responded, “Before. They did the initial five I believe soon after I made this press release, which is the focus point of my indictment. They got a wiretap to listen in on all our phone calls and all our client visits and that’s why they allowed me to go back and visit. They wanted to gather evidence and of course they really didn’t gather evidence, they just listened in."

This to me is very spooky and rings of George Orwell's 1984 and Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, both novels that were written about futuristic fascist governments, which ruefully seem to be coming true. Why? Because people are fearful: fearful of talking on their own phones, using their email and afraid anything they say or do can be construed as a "terrorist act." So one can only imagine the impact it will have on our legal and judicial systems, meaning attorneys will be intimidated to represent people and many clients will question if they can trust a lawyer when all their conversations are recorded. This will do nothing but precipitate fear and mistrust and most of all it violates the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This means what all this insanity is about, is the context of the First , Fourth, and Sixth Amendments. The Patriot Act which is being revised and expedited by Ashcroft, as I type this, to abrogate these rights, which are: 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech, right to freedom of the press, right to freedom to peacefully assemble, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 4th Amendment, the right to be secure in person, home, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. 6th Amendment the right to counsel and the client and attorney privilege, meaning the right to discuss their attorney/client business between the two of them privately and in confidence.

When the government starts taking these rights away, by wiretapping, taping and filming, and denying people the right to speak and use the press to make their voices heard-- rights which are supposed to be upheld by our government and our Department of Justice--and using it as a means of intimidation something is very amiss with democracy, justice, and the tenets that we hold and revere as a nation.

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