Lynne Stewart Sentencing Begins; Chaos Ensues

20061016stewart.jpg

Lynne Stewart arrives at court this morning.Photo: AP


Chaos erupted on the twelfth floor of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan this morning when Lynne Stewart, the left-wing criminal-defense lawyer convicted of materially aiding terrorism last year, appeared for sentencing before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl a bit after nine.

"Free Lynne! Free Lynne!" shouted at least 100 of her supporters massed outside the courtroom, some of them raising their fists in a Black Power salute, others singing from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They had gathered earlier for a rally in Foley Square to support Stewart's efforts to be spared prison, perhaps with a sentence of home confinement. She has undergone radiation therapy for breast cancer.

Stewart, 67, who has defended a range of pariah clients from Black Panthers to members of the Weather Underground and mob figures like Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, faces the possibility of 30 years in federal prison — effectively a life sentence. Today's proceedings — expected to continue through the day — were in the new courthouse on Pearl Street, behind the old court building, where Stewart's trial was held. The new building lacks the potency the old one held for Stewart's activist leftist supporters — that's where Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death. But the new one is simply less spacious. As the chanting continued on the twelfth floor, Stewart was forced to squeeze her way through the crowd and into the tiny courtroom. Federal marshals frantically tried to keep control and at one point shouted that the judge had ordered the floor to be cleared. Even one of Stewart's two co-defendants, Mohammed Yousry, 51, an Arabic translator who, like Stewart, is free on bail pending sentencing, had trouble getting into the courtroom. Most of the boosters went downstairs; some lingered.

Amid the protests and turmoil, many were turned away from the courtroom, including an NPR correspondent, Margot Adler, who flashed her press pass and explained indignantly that she had "covered this case for two years." No dice. Behind her stood New York State Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman, sleek in a black pantsuit and heels, also showing her credentials and asking to sit in as an observer. She wasn't allowed in either.

Mary Reinholz