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Jul 17 2010

Loose Lips Sink Lawyer

Lynne Stewart was a well-known combative defense lawyer when she was convicted of aiding terrorism by allowing a supposed interpreter exchange messages with her client, a convicted terrorist cleric. The judge’s original sentence of 28-months was considered a strong sentence.  Certainly more than enough for the 60plus year old attorney to have gotten a stern message.

Apparently not, because an appellate court ruled it was too light and asked the court to reconsider. Well, the judge advised her this week that he was going to sentence her to 120 months instead! Why? because a provision of the Federal Code allows a judge to raise a defendant’s sentence for a variety of reasons including if the defendant fails to express appropriate remorse.  Judge John Koetl noted for the record that  after her sentence Stewart made the following comments: “I can do 28 months standing on my head” and “I would not take back the actions that led to my conviction.” I suspect it was the second comment that was the nail in her coffin. What was she thinking?  Had she just watched Angel With Dirty Faces and was doing her best James Cagney impression?  Taunting a Federal Court before  the case is completely over is never a good idea.  Many of my blog posts deal with lawyers and clients talking when they shouldn’t to their detriment.  This perhaps takes the cake – from two years to ten years for a show of bravado. I personally don’t think its fair, but lets see what an appellate court decides. Given the Second Circuit’s opinion on her original sentence, I think Ms. Stewart is going to be standing on her head for a decade.

On a side note, in a piece in the NY Times on Ms. Stewart’s case, seasoned criminal lawyer Andrew Lankler is asked about clients talking to the media and he responded:

There are three occasions where people speak to the media. The first is you didn’t do it, your client didn’t do it and its important for the world to know your client didn’t do it. The other time you talk to the media is when you totally did it -there’s no ifs and or buts. You might as well get out ahead of it and try to poison the jury pool as fast as possible. Every other reason, in my opinion,it’s a mistake, because you don’t know how its going to spin.”

This is nonsensical.  Never mind declaring to the media and the world that you on occasion  intentionally try to poison the jury pool (but only when your client is REALLY guilty). He says the first time to do it is when your client is not guilty and the second time to do it is when your client is guilty.  What could be the third scenario? Kind of guilty? Partially innocent?  Also you never know how its going to spin and as I discussed previously on this blog, its far more important to remain silent when you are innocent. (see, Taking the Fifth” at  https://www.courtroomstrategy.com/2010/04/on-taking-the-fifth/)  Clearly Mr. Lankler needs to follow this blog.

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