Honoring Lynne Stewart

Radical attorney and former political prisoner Lynne Stewart died Tuesday, March 7th at the age of 77 following an extended battle with cancer. In her lengthy career, this “people’s lawyer” defended Black Panthers, Weather Underground members and other outsiders. As Lynne explained in a 2015 interview with Guernica, "I'm particularly committed to the political people who needed defense. They're out there fighting the government on behalf of everybody."

Lynne was a long-time friend of the Rosenberg/Meeropol family and the RFC, and shared our commitment to standing with the children of targeted activists. And Lynne was one of the defense attorneys for the “Ohio 7,” the case which in many ways led my father to found the RFC (read more about the Ohio 7 case and its connection to the birth of the RFC here).

When Lynne herself was targeted in the early 2000s for her defense of Omar Abdel-Rahman for the first World Trade Center bombing, her family reached out to us to see if we could help. An RFC Attica Prison Visit Grant allowed Lynne’s granddaughter, then pregnant, to visit Lynne in prison where she was serving a punitive 10-year sentence. Later we awarded an additional Attica grant to allow Lynne’s great-grandson to visit her. It was fitting that our prison visit grant – endowed by a survivor of the Attica Prison Riot and lawyers who relentlessly pursued restitution for the victims in that case – made it possible for a committed radical attorney to maintain her family ties despite her politically motivated incarceration.

After her cancer spread, her husband Ralph Poynter, dear friend Betty Davis and others organized tirelessly to force the Bureau of Prisons to grant Lynne compassionate release. Once she was free, Lynne outlived all the doctors’ predictions. For more than three years, Lynne organized, spoke, traveled and enjoyed her life while remaining generous with her time and expertise. She, Ralph and Betty met with me to brainstorm about the exoneration campaign and offered whatever assistance they could provide. I also had the privilege and pleasure of speaking on numerous panels with Lynne at National Lawyers Guild, Rebellious Lawyering and Left Forum conferences.

The breadth and depth of Lynne’s commitment to a more just world is evident in the tributes that have poured in from US and international political prisoners, attorneys, social justice organizations and friends and admirers from around the world following her death. (Read the tributes to Lynne here.)

Everyone at the RFC sends our love and condolences to Ralph and all of Lynne’s family and loved ones as they mourn her loss and celebrate her extraordinary life.

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