Disbarred civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted four years ago of shuttling messages from imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman meant for senior members of an Egypt-based terrorist organization, was ordered to prison Tuesday by a federal appeals panel to begin serving her sentence.
In its ruling, the three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent Stewart's case back to U.S. District Judge John Koeltl to consider whether the activist lawyer should serve stiffer time than the 28 months he gave her in 2006.
"I will still go on fighting," Stewart, 70, said at an afternoon news conference across the street from the federal courthouse where she was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the government and making false statements. She has been free on bail pending her appeal.
"This is a case that is bigger than me personally," she said. "I am no criminal and will fight it for all the lawyers."
Stewart learned after the news conference that she could remain free at least another day until she is informed of where and when she must report to prison.
The appeals panel, in its nearly 200-page ruling, said Koeltl - who cited Stewart's lifetime of legal efforts on behalf of the downtrodden - may not have adequately considered claims that she perjured herself and other factors.
"We think that whether Stewart lied under oath at her trial is directly relevant to whether her sentence was appropriate," the panel said. "Any cover-up or attempt to evade responsibility by a failure to tell the truth upon oath or affirmation at her trial would compound the gravity of her crime."
Stewart was convicted of using her status as Abdel-Rahman's lawyer to violate federal rules that barred him from communicating from his high-security imprisonment. Abdel-Rahman - convicted in 1995 of seditious conspiracy in a plot of blow up New York City bridges, tunnels and landmarks, including the United Nations complex, the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels - is serving a life sentence.
Prosecutors had sought 30 years' imprisonment for her.
In suggesting that Stewart's sentence was too lenient, the appeals court pointed to the 20-month prison term given to her co-defendant, Mohammed Yousry, a translator who was working for her.
The appeals court said the sentencing judge also can reconsider the sentences of Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a former postal worker, depending on what the judge decides with Stewart.
The court ordered Yousry to begin serving his sentence. Sattar already is serving his 24-year sentence.
Staff and wire reports