Fears Mount Over Jailing, Beating and 'Restraint' Censorship of Alabama Blogger Accused of Libel, Contempt In Sealed Case
Public attention has begun to grow regarding the Alabama proceedings in a libel suit against blogger Roger Shuler. Court actions so far violate well-settled national law on free speech and the free press, as well as the kind of due process that any litigant deserves in a court.
Those were points I emphasized in a video interview Nov. 1 on HuffPost Live! and on The Alan Colmes Show, distributed by the Fox Radio News.
Alyona Minkovski, host of the daily Freedom Watch Zone broadcast over the Huffington Post, asked in the segment "Journalist Beaten & Arrested" why the media have not provided more coverage to such a remarkable attack on the free press. Shuler faces charges of contempt of court and resisting arrest in a case that has been sealed from public view.
Update: Shuler remained jailed and without an attorney, as of Nov. 14. His friends have started a Facebook support page. Please join here for news and comment. The state circuit court judge presiding in his libel case has set 10 a.m. Nov. 14 as hearing date for a preliminary injunction in his case. It is not clear whether Shuler will be permitted to attend, according to the defendant's wife and co-defendant, Carol Shuler.
After congratulating my interviewer and her team for covering the case, I gave three reasons why the prosecution remains so little reported elsewhere.
First, relatively few people even know about it because Shuler was swept into jail after a politically powerful attorney filed a libel suit. Shuler has been held in jail without bond and without an attorney. His wife, Carol Shuler, also interviewed on the show, is barricaded in her home in fear that she will be arrested on a contempt of court charge in the libel case. Financially strapped and without Internet service until Nov. 2, she and her jailed husband are not in a position to alert the media.
Further, some mainstream journalists or former journalists regard attacks on bloggers, legal or otherwise, as not newsworthy or otherwise important. In October 2010, for example, private security guards for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller in Alaska "arrested" -- in extremely aggressive fashion captured on video -- the editor of the Alaska Dispatch website as the editor attempted to interview Miller at the end of a public event in an Anchorage school.
I urged a regional leader of a professional journalism group that I have long supported as a member to a protest. He responded that the victim was probably "just a blogger" unworthy of attention.
She said Shelby County deputy sheriffs did not formally describe their intentions in making the arrest on contempt of court charges arising out of a recent libel suit, thereby creating unnecessary confusion for her husband.
Shuler's difficulties apparently stem from a coordinated campaign by politically powerful Republicans to fight back with multiple lawsuits and threats against a blogger who typically publishes columns five days per week with an unusually harsh and frequent combination of political, financial and sex scandal. The targets are usually, but not always, Republican politicians, judges and lawyers.
Also, his active legal and business ventures including winning a $500 million fraud judgment as co-lead counsel in a civil class action suit against former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, Siegelman's co-defendant in a 2006 trial that ended with criminal convictions for both Siegelman and Scrushy on much-disputed corruption charges. Shuler has repeatedly criticized the civil case award on various grounds. It is not part of the recent lawsuit allegations.
In the defamation suit, Riley and Duke obtained an order last month from Circuit Judge Claud Neilson requiring Shuler to remove from his website columns alleging an affair and abortion, and not to publish others. Neilson, who the state's chief justice recruited from retirement just to hear the Riley/Duke suits, issued an injunction against both of the Shulers and added findings of contempt. A judge can hold a defendant in jail for months or even years on a contempt charge, especially if a defendant has no lawyer or other outside advocate.
Regarding "prior restraint" in a libel case involving the media, the Supreme Court has long banned that kind ruling except in the most extraordinary circumstances and after full argument. So, the injunction by Neilson is one of several developments that make the case highly unusual. Among others are the delivery of formal service and the short period between the contempt finding and what has is becoming a lengthy jail experience without a hearing or medical treatment.
Also, I have sought to persuade more journalism and legal/civil rights organizations to get involved, with mixed results. One of my groups responded that they "have bigger fish to fry."
But other individuals have undertaken effective outreach. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote a column about this early on for its website.
The American Civil Liberties Union has requested leave from Shuler's judge to file a friend of the court brief arguing that the injunction violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Alabama Constitution's Article I, § 4. In addition, the ACLU protests that a sealed court record violates the public’s constitutional right of access to judicial records and proceedings. The ACLU filing came in response to a request from a concerned reader. There are many more such groups that are supposed to be involved in such battles, according to their mission statements and fund-raising appeals.
Selected Legal Filings in Riley v. Shuler and Duke v. Shuler
Riley -- Order on Injunction, 10/4/13
Riley -- Petition for Contempt, 10/4/13
Riley -- Motion to Seal, 7/23/13
Riley -- Proposed Order on Contempt, 10/7/13
Riley -- Order on Contempt, 10/7/13
Riley -- Shuler Motion to Quash, filed 10/16
Related News Coverage
Update: Legal Schnauzer, Media Coverage of Legal Schnauzer First Amendment Case Gains Traction with HuffPost Live! Interview, Staff report, Nov. 12, 2013. The media coverage of Roger Shuler's beating and unlawful arrest on Oct. 23 gained some major traction recently with an insightful video interview with Alyona Minkovski of HuffPost Live! The host of the daily Freedom Watch Zone broadcast of The Huffington Post interviewed me and Andrew Kreig of the Justice Integrity Project of Washington, D.C. In the Nov. 1 TV segment entitled "Journalist Beaten & Arrested," Minkovski asked why the media had not provided more coverage to such a remarkable attack on the free press. Kreig emphasized that the state of Alabama's "kangaroo" court proceedings and bizarre actions grossly violate well-established national constitutional law both on free speech and freedom of the press, as well as, the rights to due process that any litigant deserves in court. Kreig further noted that many mainstream media organizations face daunting financial pressures and have reduced staff as a result. The remaining employees are fearful of controversy and the risk of possible job loss and thus are typically very reluctant to report in any aggressive or adverse way on public officials and their wrongdoings. Also in the interview with Minkovski, I had the opportunity to describe exactly what happened to Roger on the evening of Oct. 23 when he was assaulted by four Shelby County sheriff's deputies in our garage and badly beaten and unlawfully arrested. At no time, was he ever told by any of these deputies that he was under arrest, being charged with anything, shown or even told about a warrant of any kind nor ever read his rights! He was merely attacked inside the four walls of our home, beaten up and abducted into the night.
Justice Integrity Project, Corruption-Fighting Reporter Arrested, Beaten, Jailed In Alabama As Deputies Seek Wife's Arrest, Andrew Kreig, Oct. 25, 2013. The prominent investigative blogger Roger Shuler was arrested and beaten by Shelby County sheriff's deputies at his Alabama garage upon returning home Oct. 23. Shuler faces a resisting arrest charge stemming from his refusal to obey a judge's order to stop writing adversely about Robert Riley Jr., a well-connected attorney who is part of Alabama's most prominent political family.
Al.com, We must dare to defend Roger Shuler's rights, too, Mike Marshall, Nov. 8, 2013. Mike Marshall is editorial director of Al.com, a consortium of Alabama newspapers. Roger Shuler might be a wingnut conspiracy theorist and a crackpot. He might unfairly besmirch conservative Alabama politicians with little or no evidence to back up outlandish accusations. But he is certainly an American. As such, he certainly has a constitutional right to free speech, and that right certainly has been trampled by a judge in an Alabama circuit court.
HuffPost Live! Roger Shuler: Journalist Beaten & Arrested, Interview of Carol Shuler and Andrew Kreig by Freedom Watch Zone host Alyona Minkovski, Nov. 1, 2013. Alyona looks at the week in political activism, including the story of an investigative journalist who was beaten & arrested by police for his writing, Anonymous' Million Mask March & more! The prominent investigative blogger Roger Shuler was arrested and beaten by Shelby County sheriff's deputies in his Alabama garage upon returning home the evening of Oct. 23.
Legal Schnauzer, PayPal Donations Support the Continuing Fight for Justice in the Legal Schnauzer First Amendment Case, Carol Shuler, Nov. 6, 2013. Since Roger's brutal beating and unlawful arrest on Oct 23, we have been gratified by the chorus of folks we've heard from who wanted to help us and offered to lend their support in a variety of ways in our fight for justice. Many of those people have chosen to support this fight by way of the Legal Schnauzer PayPal donation button, which can be found in the upper right-hand corner of the blog.
Legal Schnauzer, American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Intervenes in Legal Schnauzer First Amendment Case, Carol Shuler, Nov. 5, 2013. We have been heartened by the loud outcry of concerned citizens all over the world regarding Roger Shuler's brutal beating and unlawful arrest on Oct. 23. People everywhere, including scores of media outlets, have stepped forward to help shine a spotlight on this outrageous display of police brutality, as well as, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Our civil liberties are under assault and people are saying, "Enough!" Thanks to this outpouring of effort by so many, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama has graciously agreed to step in and lend their assistance by filing motions in Roger's case. These motions were filed on Nov. 1.
Liberland, We Address Why Roger Shuler Was Allegedly Beaten And Then Arrested And Jailed, Alan Colmes, Nov. 1, 2013. Roger Shuler is a journalist who worked for a daily newspaper for years and most recently has been blogging at legalschnauzer. He was recently jailed and not given a trial date or any other indication that he’ll be released any time soon. Journalist Andrew Kreig spoke to me on radio Thursday night about the case.Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Alabama blogger jailed after violating prior restraint over articles that alleged high-profile affair, Jamie Schuman, Oct. 25, 2013. Alabama blogger Roger Shuler was arrested Wednesday after allegedly violating a judge’s order that he not publish stories about a supposed affair involving the son of a former state governor, according to a news report and his wife Carol Shuler. Police charged the blogger with contempt of court and resisting arrest, Carol Shuler said in an interview Friday.
Peter B. Collins, Update on Shuler Case With Guest Andrew Kreig, Peter B. Collins, Oct. 25, 2013. As reported here yesterday, Roger Shuler was grabbed by police officers on Wednesday evening and remains jailed on charges of contempt of court and resisting arrest. Andrew Kreig of the Justice Integrity Project returns, adding his information, research and commentary on this developing story. You can read Kreig’s article and see Shuler’s booking photo here.
Peter B. Collins, Legal Schnauzer’s Roger Shuler Gets Payback for Exposing Corrupt Leaders in Alabama, Peter B. Collins, left, Oct. 8, 2013. Veteran fighter for justice and podcast contributor Roger Shuler returns with a surreal report of an illegal injunction, a false traffic stop, and harassment by local deputies. Hear the full story, and how you can help Shuler at a critical time. Shuler’s Legal Schnauzer blog has featured well-researched and sordid stories of hypocrites in Alabama: the current Attorney General, Luther Strange’s affair with Jessica Garrison (both were married, she’s since divorced); federal appeals judge Bill Pryor’s photo from a gay porn site (Pryor is married with kids, and cancelled a family vacation to Disney World when it coincided with Gay Pride Week); and Rob Riley, a power lawyer and son of former Gov. Bob Riley (who displaced Don Siegelman in the Rove-inspired 2002 election theft and railroading of Siegelman into federal prison) who reportedly had an affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke that resulted in a pregnancy and abortion. These are Alabama’s defenders of family values.
Al.com, Truth-teller or bomb-thrower? Legal Schnauzer blogger jailed after violating court order, Kyle Whitmire, Oct. 29, 2013. Blogger Roger Shuler was arrested for contempt of court and resisting arrest after he violated a court order, but some legal experts say the order was unconstitutional. For years, Roger Shuler has written about elected officials and those close to them, recently mixing the credulity of public documents with saucy allegations of marital infidelity and criminality. Earlier this month, a state court judge told him to stop. He didn't. And now he is in jail.
Shelby County Reporter, ‘Legal Schnauzer’ blogger arrested for contempt of court, resisting arrest, Cassandra Mickens, Oct. 29, 2013. A blogger who aired an alleged extramarital affair involving the son of former Gov. Bob Riley is being held in the Shelby County Jail after an Oct. 23 arrest. Roger Alan Shuler, chief writer of the blog Legal Schnauzer, is charged with two counts of contempt of court and one count of resisting arrest. Shuler’s bond is $1,000 for the resisting arrest charge. No bond was set for the two contempt of court charges.
Peter B. Collins, Bulletin: Alabama Blogger Roger Shuler Arrested for “Contempt” of Kangaroo Court, Peter B. Collins, Oct. 24, 2013. Breaking: Roger Shuler arrested for “contempt” of kangaroo court in Alabama, following illegal court order violating First Amendement, prior restraint.
Al Jazeera America, Alabama journalist beaten and jailed, The Stream Team, Oct. 28, 2013. A controversial Alabama investigative journalist behind Legal Schnauzer was beaten in his garage and arrested by four Shelby County sheriff's deputies on October 23. Roger Shuler is currently being held on two contempt of court charges and one for resisting arrest. The charges stem from his refusal to obey a judge's order to stop writing about an alleged affair involving Robert Riley Jr., a major Republican political figure and the son of former two-term Alabama governor Bob Riley, and lobbyist Liberty Duke.
Reason.com, Alabama Blogger Jailed, Apparently For Not Obeying Order To Stop Publishing Certain Information about Politician, Brian Doherty, Oct. 25, 2013.Weird story out of Alabama, as reported by the Justice Integrity Project: The prominent investigative blogger Roger Shuler was arrested and beaten by Shelby County sheriff's deputies at his Alabama garage upon returning home Oct. 23.
American Spectator, Crazy in Alabama, Robert Stacy McCain, Oct. 29, 2013. A blogger’s arrest highlights a widespread epidemic of liberal lunacy. Editor's Note: For context, we provide this alternative view of the Shuler arrest in the near-absence of mainstream news coverage. The author, Robert Stacy McCain, has undertaken a number of blog-driven crusades attacking opponents of Karl Rove and other Republicans.
Popehat, Alabama Blogger Roger Shuler Arrested For Violation of Unconstitutional Injunction, Ken White, Oct 27, 2013. So how did Judge Neilson excuse granting Riley's motion for a preliminary injunction before any trial of the matter? Very badly. Judge Neilson — who may have executed a proposed order from Riley's attorneys — utterly failed to cite or distinguish any of the wall of authority discussing how preliminary injunctions are strongly disfavored in both equity and First Amendment law. Judge Neilson didn't cite the "only in the most extraordinary circumstances" rule, let alone apply it. He only cited two Alabama cases — one 1947 case about defamation of a business that had no First Amendment analysis, and one appeal of a criminal harassment conviction that doesn't even mention prior restraint or injunctions. In a footnote, Judge Neilson cited a melange of state and federal cases from California, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois with no explanation or analysis. Those cases actually undermine his authority to issue the injunction, because they support the proposition that an injunction against defamation is almost always inappropriate before a finding on the merits at trial or if the plaintiff wins a summary judgment motion. It appears that the drafter of this order simply scoured the nation for the handful of outlier cases saying something positive about injunctions against defamation — plus the tiny number of cases approving them pretrial — while completely ignoring the authority (including from the United States Supreme Court) that such injunctions are inappropriate.
Liberaland, Schmalfeldt On Roger Shuler’s Arrest: Where’s The Media? Dave Doctor Gonzo, Oct. 28, 2013. It turns out we’re not the only ones wondering where the heck the media is on reporting the brutal and apparently illegal arrest of law blogger Roger Shuler. OpEdNews’s William Schmalfeldt takes the liberal blogosphere to the woodshed: The so-called “liberal” media should hang its head in shame over its silence in response to the beating, arrest, and jailing without bond of liberal blogger Roger Shuler.
Legal Schnauzer, Judge In Rob Riley's Lawsuit Violates 230 years of U.S. Law To Impose Prior Restraint On Reports About Messy Affair, Roger Shuler, Oct. 8, 2013. An Alabama judge's preliminary injunction in a defamation case runs counter to more than 230 years of case law on free speech in the United States.
Alabama Political Reporter, Attorney General’s Former Campaign Manager Sues Blogger Over Accusations of Extramarital Affair, Bill Britt, Aug. 30, 2013. The former campaign manager for Attorney General Luther Strange has filed a defamation of character suit against blogger, Roger Shuler. The civil action filed by Jessica Medeios Garrison against Shuler, whose blog is called Legal Schnauzer, was recorded in Jefferson County Circuit Court on August 27, 2013. The case contends that Shuler published, “defamatory, malicious and intentionally tortious posts about Garrison on his website. But, it is not just Shuler that the case is filed against. It also includes, “those persons, firms or corporations unknown to Plaintiff that acted in concert with Defendant Roger A. Shuler to fund, foment, direct or, jointly with him, publish the defamatory, malicious and intentionally tortious posts.” This is a wide net cast to ensnare anyone who may be helping Shuler in any way. This may also extend to the anonymous posters on Shuler’s website. Shuler has repeatedly posted stories on his site accusing Garrison of having an ongoing sexual affair with the Attorney General.
FireDogLake, Coal Baron and Major Ken Cuccinelli Campaign Donor Sues Blogger for Defamation, Invasion of Privacy, Steve Horn, Nov. 3, 2013. Robert Murray, owner of the Ohio-based coal giant, Murray Energy Corporation, filed a defamation lawsuit against a prominent liberal blogger and the Huffington Post. Filed on Sept. 25 in Belmont County’s Court of Common Pleas, Murray’s complaint accuses Mike Stark, creator of FossilAgenda.com and Stark Reports, and the Huffington Post of defamation and invasion of privacy stemming from Stark’s Sept. 20 article, “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign.” Starkis represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and David Halperin, former Executive Director of the Center for American Progress’ Campus Progress (now Generation Progress). Stark seeks to dismiss charges. The dispute is during the Virginia gubernatorial race between Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Murray is one of Cuccinelli’s key campaign contributors. Murray Energy has given Cuccinelli $30,000. Also, Murray has called President Obama's impeachment.
NBC TV Today Show, 'Not about me being a victim': Ex-NYPD Chief Kerik defends his criticism of prisons, Eun Kyung Kim, Nov. 4, 2013. Appearing on NBC's Today Show, convicted felon and former Homeland Security nominee Bernard Kerik continued his criticism of "flawed" sentencing guidelines, while insisting he’s not trying to create public sympathy for himself.
“It’s not about me being a victim of the system. I think the system is flawed. I think the system is supposed to punish. It’s not supposed to annihilate personally, professionally, financially,” he told Today's Matt Lauer, right, in the second of a two-part interview with the former nominee for Homeland Security secretary. “It’s not supposed to destroy families. The punishment must fit the crime. I was in prison with commercial fisherman that caught too many fish that spent three years in prison,” he said. “Their licenses were removed. They’re not going to be able to work in that industry for the rest of their lives. That’s a life sentence.”
During an interview that aired last week, Kerik handed Lauer a nickel to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to prison. “I was with men sentenced to ten years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That's insane.” he said.