Stewart has often acknowledged that she violated government regulations, arguing that her obligation as an attorney was to keep her client's name and his words in the public domain.
"We all believed it was our role to keep him on the world stage," Stewart told The Washington Post last year. "His word matters. And he wouldn't be the first man accused of terrorism who is later released from prison when times change."
Lynne Stewart, with husband Ralph Pointer, represented Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is jailed.
(David Karp - AP)
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This strategy, and Stewart's decision to smuggle out the sheik's message advocating the end of the cease-fire, troubled legal ethicists from both ends of the political spectrum.
Steven Lubet, director of Northwestern University's program on advocacy and professionalism, dismissed much of Stewart's defense. "There is nothing about 'vigorous defense' that requires a lawyer to facilitate her client's political goals," he said in a statement. "This case has nothing to do with zealous defense."
Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, added that Stewart comes from a long tradition of radical defense lawyers who stop at little in defense of their clients. But he noted that few go so far as Stewart.
"I don't think most lawyers would take these risks," he said. "Her conduct, when she crossed the line, was bold."
Stewart would not disagree. Having a professed belief in armed revolutionary struggle, she has defended drug dealers and police killers, and she has been ranked among the best criminal defense lawyers in the city. She is free on bond until her July 15 sentencing and promised to appeal.
"I see myself as a symbol of what people rail against when they say that civil liberties are eroded," she said Thursday.