Stewart Considers Starting Sentence Immediately
Lengthy Appeals Could Hurt Company
By Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2004; Page E01
NEW YORK, July 23 -- Martha Stewart is considering serving her five-month prison term immediately rather than waiting until a federal appeals court acts on her request to overturn her conviction, sources familiar with the discussion said Friday.
Stewart, 62, was sentenced last week to five months in prison, five months' home confinement at her estate in Bedford, N.Y., and $30,400 in fines and fees for lying to federal authorities about her December 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock and obstructing an investigation into the sale. But she asked for and received permission to remain free on bond while she appealed, a process that could take over a year.
After her sentencing, Stewart held a news conference and gave television interviews in which she deplored the damage the case had done to her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., and encouraged supporters to buy her company's products and magazines.
Her appeals lawyer, Walter Dellinger, said Friday in a written statement: "Any thought that Martha Stewart might give to voluntarily beginning the service of her sentence is based on her desire to devote her full time to her company as soon as possible. In any case she plans to vigorously pursue her appeal and seek reversal of her conviction."
He would not elaborate on her plans.
Stewart has already notified the court of her intent to appeal. She has also paid the $30,000 fine. New York's Daily News reported Friday morning that she was considering serving her sentence immediately.
Business analysts said a lengthy appeals process would prolong uncertainty for the company, which has already laid off 200 employees since the scandal became public. Stewart has canceled the next season of her syndicated television show, and advertising is down sharply in her flagship magazine, Martha Stewart Living.
Research analyst Dennis McAlpine, who follows the company's fortunes, said Stewart should get her prison term over with as soon as possible. "The longer she stays out, the longer she's going to get criticism for putting her personal goals ahead of her company," he said. "The advertisers are not going to come back, if at all, until she's out of jail."
But he cautioned investors: "Don't hold your breath. They throw out trial balloons about once a week."
The company's shares closed at $10.85, up 24 cents, or 2.26 percent for the day. The stock price is still well below the $19 range where it was trading before news of Stewart's ImClone trades leaked in June 2002.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company