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INDICTED AND DEFIANT / Radical attorney Lynne Stewart stand accused of abetting terrorists. Her response: 'Emphatically not guilty.'

The black-robed judge turned to his clerk at 11:59 a.m. and said sharply,

"Call her office." Before the clerk could reach for the phone, Lynne Feltham

Stewart, attorney-at-law, stiff-kneed from arthritis, entered the courtroom in

black skirt and blouse, wearing sensible shoes and schlepping a cloth shopping

bag that contained files for a client's case.

She was one minute early, a reflection of the fine line she has walked all

her life.

This is the Lynne Stewart who has represented cop-killers and

revolutionaries. This is the Lynne Stewart who stands accused of passing

messages from imprisoned blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman to terrorists in the

Middle East. The sheik was found guilty of conspiracy for his role in the 1993

bombing of the World Trade Center, a case referred to Stewart by former U.S.

Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Now Stewart, a 62-year-old grandmother who was

raised in Bellerose, faces the possibility of spending 18 years in a federal


Stewart, who pleaded "emphatically not guilty," said she has "moments of

apprehension about my case. Sometimes I wake up at 3 a.m. and see my life

passing me by."

In expansive interviews over several days, Stewart and others drew a

picture not of an alleged terrorist abettor, but of a caring patriot who sees

racism, sexism and other forms of oppression that most people overlook. The

world Stewart sees convulses from the rage of the exploited and the oppressed.

Her clients, past and present, describe a woman who both mothered and doggedly

represented them. But a grand jury saw someone else, a person who "unlawfully,

willfully, and knowingly combined, conspired and confederated ... to provide

material support and resources ... to a foreign terrorist organization."

But from all appearances, Stewart, who now lives in Brooklyn, is anything

but a rebel. Pictures of her seven multiethnic grandchildren adorn her office,

as does a 1987 spring training photo of the Mets' 1986 world championship

pitching staff, a gift from her late mother.

Her now-gray hair lays flat on her head and falls to her ears. Her bangs

are stringy. She is soft in body and has soft eyes. Her expansion watchband is

askew, the watch a $10 knockoff bought on Canal Street.

She is anti-capitalism. Religion plays no role in her life. Both, though,

are permitted in her family. Only racism, sexism and being a Yankees fan are

banned. While Stewart, at first blush, might appear a stalwart liberal, she

should not be mistaken for one; she is a radical lawyer and she is defiant.

She was born on Oct. 8, 1939, to Irene and John Feltham, both public school


"My father was a rare breed, a Republican in Queens, but an FDR

Republican," she said.

Her parents were Presbyterian before they joined the Reformed Church in

America. Her father was an elder; her mother baked pies for church suppers.

Lynne Feltham regularly attended Sunday school.

Her heroes when growing up were Jo, a character in "Little Women" who cut

off her hair and sold it to send money to the Union army, and Jackie Robinson,

a Brooklyn Dodger who in 1947 became the first African-American to play Major

League Baseball in the 20th century. She still would be a Dodgers fan if

then-owner Walter O'Malley hadn't shipped those heroes off to Los Angeles in


Virginia Gernes, her friend since they met in 1953 while attending Jamaica

High School and later transferred to Martin Van Buren High School together,

recalled: "Even in our protected Queens of the Eisenhower years, there were

plenty of discomfiting issues that caught Lynne's eye, particularly civil

rights and sexism."

Feltham and Gernes flouted high school girls' basketball rules that in

their time didn't allow girls to dribble.

After Feltham, a newspaper and yearbook editor, Arista member and violin

player, graduated from Van Buren, she spent two years at Hope College in

Holland, Mich., a school run by the Reformed Church in America. Although she

was almost a straight- A student, the newspaper editor, a basketball team

member, and still a churchgoer because it was required, she said she "was

denied membership in Phi Beta Kappa because they thought I didn't represent the

true ideal of a Hope College woman. They were right."

Stewart said she was shunned for suggesting that the school host a

Christmas party for farm workers' children, and for her proclivity to speak her


In 1960, for one semester, she attended an honors program at American

University in Washington, D.C.

"It was still a segregated city," she said. "We sat-in at lunch counters."

There, she met and soon married Robert Stewart, a fellow student. They

moved to Staten Island, and Lynne Feltham Stewart became pregnant. In 1961, she

graduated from Staten Island's Wagner College with a degree in political

science, still very much a liberal, and gave birth to Brenna.

The defining period of her life began when she was 22 and went to work as a

school librarian at PS 175 in Harlem.

"I thought I was educated," Stewart said. "And then I came to Harlem and

saw what we were doing to black people, the opportunities they didn't have. I

inherited this library. Students weren't allowed to take books home. They were

barely allowed to touch them, and most of the kids couldn't read them, anyway."

The degradation and racism she witnessed there flipped her switch. A light

turned on that altered her view of the world, a view that now focused on the

indignities and wrongs she saw being piled on minorities.

While at PS 175, she met Ralph Poynter, five years her senior, who taught

grades 4, 5 and 6. He was in the forefront of efforts to gain community control

of schools.

"Black kids were under-taught and undereducated and teachers lied about

it," Poynter said. "They told parents that it was only their kid that was

failing when it was almost everyone. It wasn't the children's fault. It still

isn't. It wasn't about white teachers or black teachers. It was about teaching."

Stewart saw that significant change would never happen unless ordinary

people - such as she - took up the cause. And she did. She joined Poynter in

the fight to get black principals as well as committed and caring teachers

appointed to Harlem schools, to win contracts for maintenance workers and to

allow black businesses to bid on school purchase contracts.

Poynter was married, and so was Stewart, but their friendship became more

than just friendship.

"We're not paradigms," Stewart said of their relationship.

Poynter had two more children and Stewart one with their respective

spouses. Stewart's marriage ended in a Mexican divorce in 1965, when her second

child, Geoffrey, was a year old. Poynter separated from his wife, but did not

divorce until 1978.

Stewart brags that Poynter used to hang a big chain in the middle of his

blackboard and chant to his students, "'Break the chain, break the chain.'" And

instead of the Pledge of Allegiance, he would have the children recite, "'We

are the African people. We are the African people.'

"He could out-teach anyone at the school," Stewart said. "He could command

their attention. Kids in his classes jumped years in reading levels."

Poynter was raised "black and proud," and more. In Pennsylvania, his

parents used to pay the milkman's bill for a poor white family on the block.

When Poynter found out about it, he was angry, but his mother told him,

"'Shouldn't that white child have milk, too?'"

"She taught me who 'my people' really are," Poynter said.

Chemistry aside, it was Poynter's inclusive political agenda that attracted

Stewart to him.

Poynter's attempts to organize led to demonstrations that sometimes

resulted in violent encounters with the police. He was fired and rehired twice.

After his third confrontation with police, he was convicted of felonious

assault, lost his teacher's license and was sentenced to six months in jail.

Stewart transferred to PS 64 on the Lower East Side to be nearer the

motorcycle shop that Poynter opened soon after getting out of jail in 1969. She

organized parents at that school, too. And she and Ralph had a child of their

own, Zenobia, in 1971.

One day that year, she says, she went to Ralph and said, "'I can't do this

anymore. I'm going to end up an eccentric bag lady.' That's how they made me

feel at school. I would say something at a meeting and the teachers would move

on as if I hadn't spoken, as if I wasn't even there. Ralph asked me what I

wanted to do. I told him I had always thought about law. He said, 'Do it.' I

had three kids, one still a babe in my arms, and he said, 'Do it.'"

In her application to Rutgers Law School, she wrote, "The voiceless need a

voice and I would like to be that voice." She became active in the anti-war

movement at Rutgers and graduated in 1975.

Stewart found a job at a small criminal defense firm in Manhattan. The firm

mostly represented people who sold marijuana and other drugs, "money cases,"

Stewart said. She was kept in the back doing research and writing and saw no

future for herself as a trial lawyer there. In 1978, she quit and opened her

own practice on Charles Street in the West Village.

"I must have represented 1,000 battered wives," she said. "In those days,

there was nothing for them. I got the orders of protection and Ralph served

them on their husbands. I was representing people in the gay community, too.

New Jersey still had those sodomy laws and used peepholes."

She moved her office to downtown Broadway two years ago. On a recent Sunday

morning, she and Poynter, 68 and built like a boxer, parked themselves in the

brick-walled waiting area, containers of coffee in hand, on old brown leather

couches near a table stacked with neat piles of journals, a New Yorker, an

Amnesty International, even a People.

On the walls hang a macram�, an abstract painting with an alligator and a

vintage Black Panther poster, crossed rifles and the words, "We want self


Self-determination is Stewart's creed. The crossed rifles become a means to

that end, the last resort. Her agenda is not liberal, even when it comes to

gun control.

"If you keep guns away from ordinary citizens," she said, "you take away

the peasants' power to revolt that was central to our Declaration of

Independence and inherent in the Second Amendment."

On this issue, she and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who exploded her to

prominence when he personally announced her indictment in April, are in full


That Poynter helped inform Stewart's politics is an understatement.

Likewise, Stewart honed Poynter's sword. They end each other's sentences. They

are each other's historians as dates fade and one organization's battles meld

into another's. They laugh easily with each other, as do only the best of

friends. And they work together. He is her firm's investigator and, since the

indictment, her bodyguard, too.

Her favorite clients are "those whose beliefs are rooted in traditional

roles of freedom fighters," she said.

But, like most criminal lawyers, she'll represent just about anyone,

drawing the line only at child abuse and pedophilia because of what she

described as her "motherly schoolteacher mentality." She would also not likely

represent a "Klan member or a Croatian general," she said. "When you take a

case, you have to be able to give it 100 percent."

She gave 100 percent to Larry Davis, who, in a highly publicized 1988

shootout with New York police, wounded six officers. She, assisted by William

Kunstler and Stanley Cohen, got him acquitted of attempted murder, although not

of the gun charges.

Stewart described Davis as a South Bronx boy who, in a moment of crisis,

used self-defense, standing up in the face of certain death. "But he had no

politics whatsoever," she said ruefully.

She affirmed what she told a New York Times reporter in 1995, that she

doesn't believe in "anarchistic violence but in directed violence. That would

be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism

and sexism, and the people who are the appointed guardians of these

institutions, and accompanied by popular support."

By way of explanation, she said things would not have changed but for the

John Browns and the Molly Maguires, that Catholic repression would have

continued in Northern Ireland but for the IRA, that the Weather Underground

influenced the end of the Vietnam War.

To that end, she represented:

David Gilbert, a former member of the Weather Underground, who was

convicted of assisting the Black Liberation Army in the 1981 Brinks armored-

car robbery in Nyack, N.Y., which resulted in the death of two police officers

and a security guard.

Richard Williams, a member of the Ohio 7, a group that espoused anti-

apartheid views, who was convicted of participating in a bombing campaign

against corporate offices and military installations in which one person was

seriously injured.

Richard Williams again, when he was tried and convicted for killing a New

Jersey trooper.

Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of a criminal conspiracy that

included the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a plot to bomb city

landmarks and tunnels.

As to the sheik, Stewart describes the spiritual leader of el Gamaa't

Islamia, an Egyptian political independence movement, as "an innocent man,

wrongly convicted."

"In this country, having beliefs, even violent ones, is not a crime," she

says, maintaining that the sheik never did any act in furtherance of a


The judge and jury disagreed, and Abdel-Rahman is serving a sentence of

life in prison plus 65 years.

The fact that Abdel-Rahman espouses many views that appear diametrically

opposed to Stewart's ideal world of "inclusive, dynamic societies in which we

all become enriched by each other's cultures" does not dissuade her.

"I believe in self-determination," she said. "His is one way to lift off

the yoke of imperialism. If the next step is worse, then the people will rise

again. It's a process of development."

Stewart concedes that if Abdel- Rahman's followers had their way, the first

step would likely be an Egyptian society governed by men who would strictly

interpret the Shariah, Islamic law.

Stewart, who is free on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond, was indicted

with three others, one of whom is Mohammed Yousry, 45, of East Elmhurst, an

interpreter. Yousry accompanied Stewart and the sheik's other lawyers, one of

whom is Ramsey Clark, who represented Abdel-Rahman on appeal, on visits to him

in prison. Abdel-Rahman was forbidden contact with the outside world, other

than his lawyers, by Special Administrative Measures (known as SAM) ordered by

the government "for the purpose of protecting persons against the risk of death

or serious bodily injury." Stewart, who does not speak Arabic, is alleged to

have spoken English to mask unlawful Arabic conversations between Yousry and

the sheik in violation of the SAM.

She is also charged with telling the press that Abdel-Rahman had withdrawn

his support for a cease-fire between the Egyptian government and el Gamaa't

Islamia, which is on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations.

Factions of el Gamaa't Islamia supported the cease-fire that began soon after

the November 1997 attack in Luxor, Egypt, which killed 58 foreign tourists and

four Egyptians. El Gamaa't Islamia claimed responsibility for that onslaught.

Two clients have fired Stewart since her indictment - Salvatore Aparo, aka

Sammy Meatball, and Sammy "the Bull" Gravano - both organized- crime figures.

"Those kind of guys like good lawyers, but they're very conservative,"

Stewart said.

Unless the charges, which stem from Stewart's alleged conduct between 1999

and May 2001, are dismissed, she will soon find herself in a chair usually

reserved for her clients. She will be represented by Michael Tigar, a renowned

attorney who has a long history of defending high-profile clients whose alleged

crimes have political and constitutional twists, such as Terry Nichols in the

Oklahoma City bombing, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, the Chicago Eight and Allen


"[My] indictment is meant to be inflammatory and overreaching," Stewart

says with measured anger. "It criminalizes what any good lawyer would do. The

charges are not really about my politics. It's about their politics and our


Any good lawyer, according to Stewart, would act in a client's best

interest, which for Abdel-Rahman would mean not allowing him to be "entombed by

the government" - which she defined as being silenced in a First Amendment

sense. "I mean there are lines I would not cross for a client's best interests,

like helping a client to escape, but we are talking about America, and in

America we're supposed to have a free marketplace of ideas."

Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Organized Crime and Terrorism Unit

Joseph Bianco, who is the lead prosecutor in Stewart's case, would not comment

on Stewart's characterizations of the charges against her, unless a chuckle

could be considered comment. Stewart's next court date, June 12, will be for a

status conference in front of U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl. Bianco

said a trial date might be set at that time.

Stewart hopes there will never be a trial, and so motions will soon be

filed on her behalf that will challenge the legal basis of the charges. If the

motions succeed, that's the end of it. But if not, and there is a trial, the

government can expect to meet fierce opposition from this round-faced woman

with a generous smile.

"I see it as the culmination of everything I have fought for all my life."

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