Fri Feb 4, 2005 06:43 PM ET
By Gail Appleson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The case of a U.S. defense lawyer charged with aiding terrorism is a troubling matter for a jury that may be split into supporters of President Bush and those who think his
anti-terrorism policies threaten civil rights.

So say some legal experts who believe the lengthy deliberations in the trial of Lynne Stewart indicate deep divisions among the 12 members of the Manhattan federal jury.

The panel, meeting just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, has deliberated for more than nine working days since Jan. 12.

At issue is whether Stewart, a feisty New York defender of the poor and unpopular, intentionally helped a jailed militant Muslim communicate with violent followers. Prosecutors say her actions could have led to renewed violence in Egypt.

Stewart, 65, denies any wrongdoing and insists she was doing her job by zealously representing her client.

The case has drawn widespread attention from U.S. lawyers, some of whom believe Stewart is the target of vindictive prosecutors and others who say she willingly broke the law.

Stewart’s own defense lawyer has tried to convince the jury that she is the victim of an overreaching Bush administration who wants to punish her for her radical views and representation of unpopular clients.

Philip Anthony, chief executive officer of DecisionQuest, a trial consulting firm owned by Bowne Co., said he believes the jury is divided into “law and order” types who support the government’s anti-terrorism policies and those who may see Stewart as a victim of efforts that have gone too far.

“These are very divisive issues for the American psyche,” he said. “I would imagine there are deep divisions in the jury room.”


Ivan Fisher, a New York defense lawyer, said he also thinks the jury was struggling with the question of whether Stewart had aided terrorism or carried out her right to represent a client.

“The last thing this jury wants to do is acquit a true terrorist,” he said. “But these charges turn our notion of basic freedoms on their head. I think it’s bothering a lot of people.”

The charges against Stewart stem from her actions in representing Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets — a plot prosecutors say included the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that Stewart broke communications restrictions placed on Abdel-Rahman after he began serving a life term for his conviction. Rules had been put in place by the U.S. Justice Department to stop Abdel-Rahman from sending messages that could result in acts of violence.

Prosecutors charge that Stewart made it possible for Abdel-Rahman to exchange communications with the Islamic Group. The U.S. government says the group is a terrorist organization, that Abdel-Rahman is its spiritual leader and that he messages could have ignited violence in Egypt.

Evidence included a call Stewart made in 2000 to a Reuters correspondent in Egypt in which she read a statement issued by the cleric saying he had withdrawn his support for the Islamic Group’s cease-fire in Egypt.

The group had observed the cease-fire since its 1997 attack on tourists in Luxor.

I was reading about Lynne Stuart at 3am last night in Elaine Cassel’s book, “The War on Civil Liberties”, Chapter 3 ‘The War Against Lawyers’ (Very scary book, even with my knowledge!). This book is a *must* read, as soon as possible, for anyone who cares about civil liberties. Tell everyone you know about it, send it out on listserves, write a review for your paper do, whatever you can to spread the word about the book. (Help the Needy have a short paragraph on P.103.)

The book is dedicated: “To the lawyers who fight on the front lines in the war against civil liberties and the judges who have the courage to defend the constitution.”