Return to the Days of Robust Lawyering!

Message to the National Lawyers Guild 2013 Convention

Lynne Stewart | October 28, 2013

Brothers and Sisters of the National Lawyers Guild;

I wanted to send you this most important Health Bulletin–Not Personal (pause) but on the steady evisceration of the Right to Counsel, the bulwark of all we do.  Within the last weeks, a suspect was forcibly detained for crimes against the US.  He was taken from Libya to an offshore (ship?) where he was being interrogated, read tortured. 

When the Public Defenders of the Southern District of New York, where his case is ostensibly pending, attempted to have counsel appointed for him, they were turned down in no uncertain terms by Judges using the now all too common weasel words.  But this is not a new phenomenon–it is apparent over and over again and the question remains–what are WE, who claim to be the last protection against an overreaching state going to do about it?

How important is this ?  I need to tell a couple of anecdotes about lawyering–my dear deceased friend Bill Kunstler in the tumultuous years in which the FBI-JTTF was rounding up the remnants of the Underground, Sekou Odinga, a member of the Black Panthers and then the Black Liberation Army, related to me that he had been detained in a Queens NYC precinct for many hours, was being waterboarded by the police in one of the toilets, and was really feeling it badly when all at once he heard the booming voice of the Great Kunstler echoing through the hallways demanding to see his client and he knew that he had been saved.   The other story was one that I told at an earlier convention and a young lawyer from San Diego wrote to tell me that it had turned her life around.  After my arrest, Ralph and I were stuck in Manhattan traffic, when a bicycle messenger pulled up and tapped on my window.  When I opened it he said in an excited and joyous voice “You THE Lawyer !!  You the LAWYER !!!   Indeed I was and Indeed it was and is my greatest ambition and accomplishment to be THE lawyer.

Back in the day and I mean way back, when this adversary system had its origins, the accused had the right to select a champion to fight for their rights and I mean fight–jousting, swordplay, mace and chain — ok perhaps a little hyperbole, BUT the message is clear–we were hired for our brawn as well as brains, our courage as well as legal acumen.  We need to get courage and creativity in combat, back into the equation.   It’s not about schmoozing the prosecution or the Judge.  How many courtrooms have I walked into where there was not one friendly face–there was just me and the client ?  Even the stenographers were hostile!  And that’s ok because I was there for only one reason, the one I took an oath to zealously pursue, the defense of my client.  Was it fearsome personally?  Of course.  But to do otherwise was more so.

I urge everyone to return to the days of robust lawyering.  Be Bill Kunstler in the precinct.  Be “THE LAWYER” .  Be the champion who defends fearlessly.  When I say that the right to counsel is being eviscerated I mean that the forces of the empire are very busy removing the nerves, the hearts and guts of the Fifth Amendment and leaving it a shell of what it was and can be.  We are the opposition that need to gather our shields and swords in its defense and be selfless and brave. Let us press forward–Instead of the derision we often face, let us all strive to be “the Lawyer” respected and honored.

Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart is a member of the World Can't Wait Advisory Board and is currently incarcerated in at Federal Medical Center, in Carswell, Texas. Find out more about Lynne and sign a petition for her release at lynnestewart.org.