Punishing Mmes. Stewart

The parallel universes of Martha and Lynne

More seriously, she issued a June 2000 public statement on behalf of her client expressing his withdrawal of support for a cease-fire agreed to by his followers in Egypt. Prosecutors nailed Stewart for violating an agreement she had signed to restrict the sheikh's communications. Stewart has claimed that the public statement was permissible because it was part of her client's defense strategy. Moreover, the government's tactics have raised concerns about violations of attorney-client privilege and of various constitutional protections.

"I see myself as being a symbol of what people rail against when they say our civil liberties are eroded," she said after the verdict. "I hope this will be a wake-up call to all the citizens of this country, that you can't lock up the lawyers, you can't tell the lawyers how to do their jobs." Perhaps the saddest delusion of all is her belief that lawyers in 2005 enjoy the same public regard as the civil rights lawyers of her youth.

In the other Stewart case, Martha's alleged white-collar offenses were pretty minor. The sum involved was pennies in the greater scheme of financial crime, and analysts said she caused little if any harm to other stockholders. (Insider irony: The FDA eventually approved ImClone's drug, and the company fared well.) Her sin was arrogance. In trying to control the damage control, the trial revealed, she seemed to elbow aside even her own lawyers at times. She also exhibited a delusional grandeur—if she announced everything was kosher, it would be so. No wonder she was convicted of trying to sugarcoat—or hot-glue—the truth.

Lynne Stewart
photo: Adam Rountree
Lynne Stewart

In a way, Martha is paying for her grandiose ass-covering, while Lynne may pay dearly for her grandiose failure to cover her ass.

But anyone who admires a tough public woman has to give both of them points for sheer attitude. "I will fight on. I'm not giving up," Lynne Stewart said. "I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right." She spoke her political truth even when on the stand accused of supporting terrorism, declaring, "To rid ourselves of the entrenched, voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism, I don't think that can come nonviolently."

Martha Stewart defiantly toted a $6,000 designer handbag to a trial about her avarice. Nor has she shrunk from addressing the case while behind bars. Her website marthatalks.com features a "trial update" section with plenty of court documents, the most recent of which is linked to in the postscript of her online Christmas letter from prison.

A final too rich, though utterly meaningless, link between the two Stewarts: Renowned defense attorney Robert Morvillo led Martha's team against Southern District prosecutors, while his son, Christopher, delivered the Southern District's opening statement in its case against Lynne.

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