Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mis-incarceration of Attorney Lynne Stewart

The mis-incarceration of Lynne Stewart

Published Nov 25, 2009 9:24 AM
By Iyanna “Nana Soul” Jones
New York

On Nov. 19, longtime civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was ordered by Judge John G. Koeltl to turn herself in to begin serving a prison sentence for her 2006 conviction for conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.

Amidst a backdrop of chants of “Free Lynne Stewart!” and “We love you Lynne!” and swarmed by supporters, friends and family members, Stewart issued a statement outside the U.S. District Court in New York before being taken into custody.

On Nov. 17, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had revoked her bail and ordered her to surrender forthwith, but stayed the order until 5 p.m., allowing Stewart’s attorneys to file an application for a stay. The application was denied. The three-judge panel of the Second Circuit also vacated the original 28-month sentence imposed on Stewart and remanded the case to the original trial court with an order for the trial judge to consider additional factors in Stewart’s case that could lead to the imposition of a much longer sentence.

Upon hearing the news Stewart replied: “Okay, we’re going to prison, folks! I want to remind you all that today was the day that Joe Hill was executed. And you know what he said? Don’t mourn me, organize!”

The trial of Joe Hill—a union organizer and activist executed before a firing squad for the alleged murders of two men—was reportedly fraught with inconsistencies and miscarriages of justice, paralleling the case of modern-day political prisoner and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom Stewart also supports.

In attendance at the Stewart rally Nov. 19 were roughly 300 protesters from a variety of organizations including International Action Center, WBAI, Artists and Activists United for Peace and the Bail Out the People Movement. The sendoff was also attended by City Councilmember and longtime supporter of Lynne Stewart, Charles Barron.

“Lynne Stewart would never do anything that would lead to the harm of any human being on this planet,” said Barron. “Lynne Stewart will always be free no matter how much you imprison her because you can jail a revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution.”

Also in attendance was Attorney Leonard Weinglass, who said: “The Lynne Stewart case is the case that’s going to mark this era as the era of the war on terrorists, which includes the war on lawyers who defend those who are accused of terrorism. To put her behind bars when no one was injured, no one was harmed, when those who produced the torture memos, those who produced the war are going free and even prospering is really the irony of our time.”

While the demonstration resonated with a contagious fighting spirit, a few tears mingled with the farewells. Stewart’s soulmate of several decades, Ralph Poynter, who is also co-founder of the New Abolitionist Movement, kept a positive outlook for those who turned out to say goodbye to the radical “People’s Attorney.” Poynter said: “It’s a sad moment for me and a sad moment for the Black community and the poor and for anyone who needed representation by a lawyer and could not afford it. We are all hurting but we will continue to struggle until Lynne is back to carry that struggle for us.”

Many see Stewart’s incarceration as a boon, particularly for those who are behind bars without adequate legal representation. And though she was disbarred upon her indictment, Stewart will undoubtedly play the role of jailhouse lawyer, acting as a mentor and advocate to those on the inside for whom justice is hard won if at all.

Pam Africa, Minister of Confrontation for MOVE and co-chair of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, both headquartered in Philadelphia, was optimistic. “These people made a huge mistake but it’s a plus for the movement. She will be the voice of the voiceless while she’s in there.”

Others are angry that Stewart, a grandmother, is serving any time at all, due to her recent 70th birthday, her battle with breast cancer and her partner Ralph’s battle with skin cancer. With the upcoming holiday season, it would seem that the decision is somewhat vindictive.

Stewart believes her case is a trumped-up maneuver to warn attorneys with a penchant for social justice away from taking on the government. Says Stewart: “I believe the larger implications are that this is a warning shot for other lawyers. Don’t advocate for your clients in a vigorous, strong way or you will end up like she did. Disbarred and in jail.”

But there is little fear that the plan will work. In fact, the consensus is that it will achieve the opposite effect: inspiring more lawyers to stand up to a fundamentally flawed legal system, fight against racism and classism, partner with grassroots community-based organizations, hold the justice system up to the standards it professes to adhere to, and most importantly, follow in the footsteps of Lynne Stewart.

For many, this is not a goodbye. Rather, it is a new beginning in a continuous struggle for justice against oppression, and, as has been the case for decades, Lynne is at the helm, rendering the bars that seek to contain her voice and influence invisible.

Before she went into the courthouse someone asked whether she had the medicine she needed for her cancer treatment. Lynne replied: “I have the love of you good people and your strength and support. It will be all the medicine I need.”

For more information on Lynne Stewart visit Iyanna Jones can be reached at
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