July 23, 2003
Ashcroft Says "Represent a Terror Suspect Makes you a Terrorist"

NEW YORK, July 22 -- A federal judge tossed out two major terrorism charges today against a prominent attorney for radicals, saying the charges were unconstitutionally vague and "reveal a lack of prosecutorial standards."

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl issued a 77-page ruling that left standing some accusations against Lynne Stewart, but threw out the two most serious charges in the grand jury indictment against her.

Koeltl wrote that prosecutors had taken too expansive a reading of federal laws that prohibit conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, adding that the indictment in this case threatened to criminalize the "mere use" of telephones. He wrote that the government appeared to define defense lawyers in this case as "quasi employees" of their clients and therefore subject to criminal prosecution.

"The government's evolving definition," Koeltl wrote, "reveals a lack of prosecutorial standards that would permit a standardless sweep that allows policemen, prosecutors and juries to pursue their personal predilections."

"The indictment of Lynne Stewart, I thought, was a very unfair attack on lawyering. This judge's ruling . . . upholds zealous advocacy and does not indict a lawyer for lawyering and being a lawyer."

Ms. Stewart was accused of helping Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of plotting to blow up New York landmarks, by helping him to pass messages to the Islamic Group, a terrorist group he once led. The charges were announced in April 2002 by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who called the case the first use of a new rule that allows the Bureau of Prisons to monitor conversations between lawyers and inmates who are threats to commit "future acts of violence or terrorism."

In his ruling yesterday, Judge John G. Koeltl of United States District Court called the terrorism counts against Ms. Stewart and a translator unconstitutionally vague. The judge said that the antiterrorism statute could not apply to a lawyer doing her job.

"The government fails to explain how a lawyer, acting as an agent of her client" who is an alleged leader of a terrorist organization "could avoid being subject to criminal prosecution as a 'quasi-employee,' " said Judge Koeltl, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Ms. Stewart has denounced the charges since her arraignment, when she said on the courthouse steps, "They've arrested the lawyer and the interpreter. How much further? Are you going to arrest the lady who cleans the sheik's cell?"

Posted by tstubbs at July 23, 2003 10:40 AM
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