Ex-lawyer dies days after terror client’s death
NEW YORK — A rebellious civil rights lawyer who was sentenced to a decade behind bars for helping a notorious Egyptian terrorist communicate with followers from his U.S. jail cell has died of cancer, three years after her release from prison.
Lynne F. Stewart, who had an unorthodox career representing small-time criminals and radicals alike before losing her law license over her dealings with the terrorist, Omar Abdel-Rahman, died Tuesday at her Brooklyn home, said her husband, Ralph Poynter. She was 77 and had recently suffered strokes.
“She marched to a different drummer, and the drummer was good,” an emotional Poynter said Wednesday.
Stewart received a “compassionate release” from prison on Dec. 31, 2013, after serving more than four years of her 10-year sentence. She was convicted of letting Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” overcome strict prison rules meant to cut off contact with the outside world while he served a life sentence for conspiring to assassinate Egypt’s president and bomb five New York City landmarks. Stewart was projected to live less than 18 months.
Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995, died in prison last month.
Judge John G. Koeltl, who presided over her 2005 trial, initially sentenced Stewart to about two years in prison. He described her in heroic terms, saying her representation of the poor, disadvantaged and unpopular provided a “service not only to her clients but to the nation.” He stiffened the sentence after an appeals panel balked.
Stewart was disbarred after being convicted in the case brought six months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In interviews, she described herself as a political prisoner. At trial, she called herself a “revolutionary with a small ‘r.’“
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Dember wrote prior to sentencing that Stewart “played a central role in repeated fraudulent attempts to pass messages to and from Abdel-Rahman.”
The mother of seven was a schoolteacher in Harlem in the 1960s before launching a legal career that brought her into the public spotlight. Her clients ranged from small-time crooks to members of the Black Panthers, Weather Underground leaders, a former hit man and a man accused of trying to kill nine police officers.
Despite illness, Stewart remained outspoken to the end. A longtime believer in armed struggle as a way of fostering political revolution, she said in a September interview that the killings of police officers had acted as “a deterrent” against the killings of unarmed civilians by police.
Stewart said violence sometimes leads to societal change, allowing “the more peaceable shepherds among us to approach the wolf.”
“I was never happier than walking into court,” she said. “In prison, I really learned how appalling the criminal justice system was.”
Assistant Federal Defender Sabrina Shroff, who worked with Stewart in 2001, said Stewart was a “hodgepodge of contradictions.” She noted Stewart would not stand up for the national anthem.
Yet, she added: “Everything she loved was American. Her biggest love was baseball. She loved Thanksgiving.”
—The Associated Press
Two prosecutors face inquiry for hindering church abuse probe
NEWTON, N.C. — A district attorney has asked the state to investigate two assistant prosecutors after an Associated Press story that quoted former congregants of a North Carolina church as saying the men derailed criminal probes into allegations of abuse by sect leaders.
David Learner said Wednesday that he wants the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the accusations against his employees, who are members of the evangelical Word of Faith Fellowship church.
The AP story, released Monday, cited nine former Word of Faith members who said Frank Webster and Chris Back provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.
The ex-congregants also said that Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law, helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents.
“This is long overdue,” said Rick Cooper, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than 20 years as a congregant at Word of Faith and raised nine children in the church. “I’m glad they’re finally taking this seriously.”
During the Jan. 1, 2013, mock trial for the four members, Jeffrey Cooper — an attorney who is one of Rick Cooper’s sons — said Whaley and other ministers watched Back play the familiar role of a prosecutor trying to trip up defendants during cross-examination. Three of the defendants eventually were acquitted and charges were dropped against a fourth.
Nathan Key, a spokesman for Learner, said in an email that Webster and Back will keep working during the investigation but did not say if they would continue to prosecute cases. He did not respond to follow-up questions.
Under North Carolina law, prosecutors cannot provide legal advice or be involved in outside cases in any manner. Violation of those rules can lead to ethics charges, dismissal or disbarment. Offering legal advice in an ongoing investigation to help a person avoid prosecution could lead to criminal charges.
Back and Webster have not responded to several messages left by the AP about the allegations.
They are assistant district attorneys for Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba counties in western North Carolina. Word of Faith is based in Spindale in nearby Rutherford County.
Last week, the AP revealed decades of physical and emotional abuse inside the church, which has 750 members in Spindale, North Carolina, and nearly 2,000 members in churches based in Brazil and Ghana. Former members described congregants as being punched, choked and thrown through walls as part of a violent form of deliverance meant to purify sinners.
Former church member John Huddle called for state and federal investigations after the AP’s stories, saying the severity and intensity of the abuses against church members has grown more alarming.
Huddle questioned why Lori Cornelius, a church member who is a longtime social services worker, also isn’t being investigated. During a social services check of complaints that students at the church-run K-12 school were encouraged to beat classmates to cast out devils, former members said Cornelius coached children on what to tell investigators with the help of Back and Webster. That probe ended with no charges.
—The Associated Press
Sacramento to pay $5M to man wrongly charged with abuse
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A jury has ruled the city of Sacramento will have to pay $5 million to a Los Angeles man wrongly charged in 2011 in an internet child-sex abuse case and held for six months before the charges were dismissed.
The jury verdict in federal court in Los Angeles followed a five-day trial in which attorney Jeff Dominic Price accused the police of fabricating evidence, malicious prosecution and violating his client’s civil rights.
The plaintiff, identified in court papers only as “J.N.,” was arrested after Sacramento police began an investigation into a 2011 complaint from the mother of a 12-year-old Sacramento girl who was being contacted by men on Facebook and being asked to disrobe in front of a webcam while one performed sex acts on himself.
Sacramento City Attorney James Sanchez said city officials disagreed with the verdict and might contest it in court.
—The Associated Press
Defendant sues judge over use of stun cuff
LA PLATA, Md. — A former Charles County judge who ordered a deputy to shock a defendant in his courtroom has been sued in federal court.
Delvon King, a defendant who was shocked in court in July 2014, filed suit Monday against Robert Nalley, the judge who ordered a deputy to activate his stun cuff.
The suit seeks $5 million in punitive damages, and says that King wasn’t raising his voice or threatening anyone when Nalley had the cuff activated. Nalley pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation last year and was sentenced to a year of probation.
King was representing himself on gun charges. King was convicted by a jury but later received probation after a public defender asked for a new trial based on Nalley’s actions.
—The Associated Press
Amazon shares data from smart speaker in hot tub death
BENTONVILLE, Ark.— Amazon dropped its fight against a subpoena issued in an Arkansas murder case after the defendant said he wouldn’t mind if the technology giant shared information that may have been gathered by an Amazon Echo smart speaker.
James Andrew Bates has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Victor Collins, who was found dead in a hot tub at Bates’ home. In paperwork filed Monday, Bates said Amazon could share the information and Amazon said it handed over material on Friday.
The Echo “listens” for key words and may have recorded what went on before Collins was found dead in November 2015. Amazon had fought a subpoena, citing its customers’ privacy rights.
—The Associated Press
Legal question of day: Is a Snuggie a blanket?
BALTIMORE, MD — The uniform for couch potatoes everywhere is wrapped in a fuzzy legal question: Is a Snuggie a blanket or an article of clothing? It’s a query that convinced Snuggie maker Allstar Marketing Group to take the U.S. government to court, The Washington Post reported.
The Chinese-made Snuggie is classified as “pullover apparel,” which is important for tariffs. The tariff on imported blankets is 8.5 percent in the U.S., while the tariff on pullover apparel is 14.9 percent.
Allstar Marketing argued before the United States Court of International Trade that the Snuggie should be considered a blanket. Last month, the judge sided with Allstar, determining that young Obi Wan Kenobi’s garb of choice is a blanket because it doesn’t close in the back.
This case highlights steps companies take to work around tariffs in a time when President Donald Trump wants stricter tariffs to encourage local manufacturing, an effort that has engaged Maryland CEOs Kevin Plank and Marillyn Hewson.
However, experts say trade barriers may encourage companies to engage in lobbying efforts for special treatment.
“Companies will employ tariff engineers to make sure products come in at a lower tariff rate, and you can’t tell me there is not a better use for their talent,” Bryan Riley, a senior policy analyst and free trade advocate at the Heritage Foundation, told The Post.
In the past, companies have gotten creative to work around tariff classifications. For example, Halloween costumes that use Velcro instead of a zipper or button can be classified as “festive articles,” which have lower tariffs than clothing, Planet Money reported.