NEW YORK – A federal appeals court upheld a harsher sentence for a civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case Thursday, saying she earned it through serious crimes that she refuses to acknowledge.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was fair two years ago to boost Lynne Stewart's sentence to 10 years in prison from the two-year, four-month sentence she was given in 2006.
The three-judge panel that had ordered her to be resentenced said it disagreed with Stewart's claim that her sentence was "shockingly high." It accused the now-disbarred lawyer of exhibiting a "stark inability to understand the seriousness of her crimes."
Herald Price Fahringer, Stewart's lawyer, said he was looking at options to appeal the ruling.
"We're awfully disappointed in the decision but we're going to keep going," he said.
Stewart resides at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas, where she recently underwent surgery. Fahringer would not disclose why his client needed surgery, but said she "is awfully weak and apparently has difficulty moving around."
The appeals court said Stewart placed lives in danger when she allowed a blind Egyptian sheik serving a life sentence for terrorism crimes to communicate with followers. She was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
She celebrated her original sentence outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, telling those gathered around her that she could do the prison term standing on her head.
She was convicted of violating strict rules limiting her client's communications by letting Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman communicate with a man who relayed messages to senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization. The sheik is serving a life sentence for conspiracies to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Stewart represented him at his 1995 trial.
Judge John G. Koeltl said public comments Stewart made after her first sentencing showed that the original sentence was insufficient.
Stewart told Koeltl she found prison life "worse than I could have imagined" and added that she would "live, not standing on my head, that I know for sure — just surviving."
The appeals court said her First Amendment rights were not abridged when the court used her statements to help determine an appropriate sentence.
"Stewart does indeed argue that she was prosecuted and punished for her political beliefs. The most obvious — and fatal — shortcoming in Stewart's argument in the context of this appeal is that there is not a hint in the record of any fact to support an assertion that the district court did so," the 2nd Circuit wrote.