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Thread: Blogger's Incarceration Raises 1st Amendment Questions

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    Spesh's Avatar
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    Blogger's Incarceration Raises 1st Amendment Questions

    But even those who longed for his muzzling, and there are many, did not see it coming like this: with Mr. Shuler sitting in jail indefinitely, and now on the list of imprisoned journalists worldwide kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists. There, in the company of jailed reporters in China, Iran and Egypt, is Mr. Shuler, the only person on the list in the Western Hemisphere.

    A former sports reporter and a former employee in a university’s publications department, Mr. Shuler, 57, was arrested in late October on a contempt charge in connection with a defamation lawsuit filed by the son of a former governor. The circumstances surrounding that arrest, including a judge’s order that many legal experts described as unconstitutional and behavior by Mr. Shuler that some of the same experts described as self-defeating posturing, have made for an exceptionally messy test of constitutional law...

    Mr. Shuler is no stranger to defamation suits, as one might surmise from reading his blog. He started it in 2007 to document a property dispute with his neighbor that blew up into a legal war and ended with the neighbor’s lawyer becoming a part-owner of Mr. Shuler’s house, which is in Birmingham. Later, the blog branched out to expose what he alleged were the corrupt machinations of powerful figures, mostly Republicans, and with a particular animus toward former Gov. Bob Riley.


    His allegations are frequently salacious, including a recent assertion that a federal judge had appeared in a gay pornographic magazine and a theory that several suicides were actually a string of politically motivated murders. Starting in January 2013, Mr. Shuler, citing unidentified sources, began writing that Robert Riley Jr., the son of the former governor, had impregnated a lobbyist named Liberty Duke and secretly paid for an abortion. Both denied it, and Ms. Duke swore in an affidavit that they had never even been alone in the same room.

    In July, Mr. Riley and Ms. Duke sought an injunction in state court against such posts, citing Mr. Shuler and his wife, Carol, in defamation suits. A judge issued a temporary restraining order in September barring the Shulers from publishing “any defamatory statement” about Mr. Riley and Ms. Duke and demanding that the offending posts be immediately removed.

    Such a sweeping order struck some lawyers as far too broad, and Mr. Shuler says he did not even know about it.

    The Shulers refused to answer the door when officials came to serve court papers, stating their suspicions in blog posts that the visits were part of an “intimidation and harassment campaign” stemming from the reporting on another topic.

    One afternoon as the Shulers drove to the local library, where Mr. Shuler had been writing his blog since they could no longer pay for their Internet connection, a member of the Sheriff’s Department pulled them over, saying they had run a stop sign. The officer then served them the papers, which the Shulers refused to accept, contending that service under such a pretext was improper.

    “We were both throwing the papers out of the windows as we were driving off,” Ms. Shuler said in an interview.

    The Shulers missed a hearing the next day, and the restraining order was superseded by a similarly worded preliminary injunction, which some free-speech advocates saw as a clear violation of Mr. Shuler’s First Amendment rights.


    “It seems to me that the judge’s order was really way out of bounds,” said David Gespass, a civil rights lawyer in Birmingham, who was further troubled by the judge’s initial decision to keep the case under seal.


    Mr. Shuler continued blogging. On Oct. 23, the police followed Mr. Shuler as he pulled into his driveway, arrested him in his garage and took him to jail on charges of contempt and resisting arrest...

    On Nov. 14, the judge held a hearing, and Mr. Shuler, who was representing himself, took the stand, insisting that the court had no jurisdiction over him and calling the court a joke. The judge decided that the hearing had “served as a trial on the merits” and made his final ruling: Mr. Shuler was forbidden to publish anything about Mr. Riley or Ms. Duke involving an affair, an abortion or payoffs; was to pay them nearly $34,000 for legal fees; and was to remove the offending posts or remain in jail.


    Mr. Riley said Mr. Shuler’s refusal to engage with the legal process had given the judge the leeway to make a final ruling.

    “If someone can continually ignore the judge just by saying, ‘You don’t have jurisdiction over me,’ then the whole system breaks down,” Mr. Riley said, adding that Mr. Shuler could not plead ignorance of the legal process. “This is not the first time Roger Shuler has been in court.”

    But Mr. White and others say that before a judge can take the step of banning speech, libel must be proved at trial, or at least over a litigation process more involved than a quick succession of hearings, with the only evidence presented by the plaintiffs.


    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/01/12...html?referrer=

    Apologies for the length of this post, but felt it was necessary to quote the "important" parts.

    A mistake by the author of this article(who has apparently refused to edit it), Shuler's wife disagrees with his discription that Shuler is refusing to cooperate:

    Carol Shuler also strongly denied the Times’ suggestion that her husband was not helping himself out of prison by refusing legal counsel. “The Times article was entirely in error in suggesting that we are not seeking a lawyer,” she noted, adding, “My husband and I both told the [Times] reporter repeatedly that we were in fact very much wanting a lawyer and were in fact looking for one, however, we did not have the resources to pay an attorney. We hope to find a good First Amendment or constitutional law attorney who could represent us pro bono or by contingency.”


    http://www.salon.com/2014/01/14/jail...an_we_thought/
    Last edited by Spesh; 01-19-2014 at 05:48 PM.
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    LANGER72's Avatar
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    Sounds like this guy has been stirring up trouble and busy making enemies. Blogging opinions is one thing, but it appears he took it further by making allegations about specific people.
    That said, what happened to him in that court room is not justice.
    With all that has happened in this country since 911, our freedoms have definitely been eroded. The 100 mile exclusion zone near borders is another example. This case doesn't surprise me anymore.
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