The ruling that left standing some accusations against Lynne Stewart, but threw out the two most serious charges in the grand jury indictment against her.
Prosecutors had accused Stewart, 62, of passing messages between her client, the imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and an Egyptian terrorist organization. Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric, is serving a life sentence for conspiring to blow up the World Trade Center and the United Nations, among other New York landmarks.
Koeltl wrote that prosecutors had taken too expansive a reading of federal laws that prohibit conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, adding that the indictment in this case threatened to criminalize the “mere use” of telephones.
“The government’s evolving definition,” Koeltl wrote, “reveals a lack of prosecutorial standards that would permit a standardless sweep that allows policemen, prosecutors and juries to pursue their personal predilections.”
Stewart said she was relieved to escape the shadow of a possible 40-year jail sentence. “Getting rid of the terror word is a big win,” she said. “The judge upheld my right to speak up for a client.”
The government has used the once obscure material support for terror charge more frequently since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, employing the 1996 statute with varying degrees of success, against alleged terrorist cells in Lackawanna, N.Y., Seattle and Detroit, as well as against John Walker Lindh, who ultimately pleaded guilty to other charges of aiding the Taliban.