Alabama commentator Roger Shuler was released from five months in jail March 26 after removing from his website allegations that a prominent Alabama attorney had had an affair with a lobbyist.
Shuler had been held since Oct. 23 on a contempt of court charge stemming from libel actions brought under seal last summer by Birmingham attorney Robert Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, who denied an affair.
Shuler's condition had sharply worsened during his nearly five months of jailing, as I learned by visiting him in Birmingham March 10.
"It's a horrible trauma to be away from your wife, your home -- and have no idea when you can get out or how," Shuler told me in a rare interview from a visitor's cell.
Shuler, 57, nearly choked up at the end of our interview when he said that he feared jail violence, and did not want to die from it. He is shown in his most recent photo, his mug shot the night of his beating by a Shelby County deputy last October. Since then, I have ramped up writing and speaking about the case, most recently on two Alabama radio interviews, with WAPI host Matt Murphy of Birmingham March 27 and with WVNN AM/FM host Dale Jackson the previous day onThe Attack Machine on the Athens-based station in northern Alabama.
The corruption-fighting reporter Shuler said he had lost 16 pounds during his jailing without bond since Oct. 23 on two contempt of court charges. The charges stemmed from his investigative reports alleging a sex scandal.
In a secret lawsuit last summer, Riley and Duke denied Shuler’s reports, which were published on the Legal Schnauzer site Shuler founded in 2007 to expose corrupt practices in Deep South courts and politics. Riley, Duke and their attorneys have not responded to my requests for further comment.
My visit occurred the day after the 50th anniversary of the nation's most famous free press case, New York Times versus Sullivan, which Shuler’s judge appears to be violating by holding the reporter indefinitely for failing to spike his stories before trial of the Riley and Duke suit.
Today's column -- originally entitled "Jailed Journalist's Sends Shocking 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' -- shows how Shuler's treatment violates fundamental press freedom and due process law arising in significant part from the 1960s civil rights struggle in Alabama and across the Deep South.
Yet the nation's journalism leaders -- especially those leading media organizations and teaching at universities -- have done virtually nothing to help Shuler either to win freedom or otherwise to preserve the national civil rights precedents being violated in his case.
With a few exceptions, most of these leaders and their entities ignore the dark scandals arising across the nation and focus their energies on First Amendment rhetoric, kow-towing to celebrities in government and the media, and promoting scholarships and other efforts to encourage young people to join an oft-glamorized profession.
As a longtime dues-paying member of several of the nation's leading journalism societies and clubs, I have repeatedly written their leaders without success since October to encourage news articles, panel discussions -- or at least letters of protest regarding the Shuler case and those like it.
For the most part, leaders ignore my letters. A few email back to plead lack of sufficient interest by their membership in such matters, or else too little funding or time to add their name to a letter of protest to an Alabama court.
To break the cycle of indifference, I traveled last week from my office in the nation's capital to visit Shuler in jail.
Shuler's wife, Carol (shown at right), could only guess at his location. So, I went March 6 to the Jefferson County jail serving Birmingham. The front desk officer erroneously told me Shuler was not there.
The officer's lack of knowledge illustrated a common problem involving the nation's two million prisoners and their visitors. The visitor and prisoner-locator situation seems to be especially bad in political cases in Alabama, where authorities have a track record of intentionally keeping prisoners away from family, friends and the media in order to inflict extra punishment on their political targets. In this instance, the information officer appeared affable, and so my lack of access seemed simply to be an error.
On March 10, five days after my first visit, I was able to visit Shuler by confirming independently that he had been, in fact, at the Jefferson County jailhouse on March 6.
Authorities admitted me. But I gained entrance only because I am an attorney and Shuler lacks counsel. Other visitors can enter only one day per week on the jail's pre-planned schedule based on the alphabet, not a visitor's schedule.
This column is entitled "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" to recall the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s eloquent 1963 letter while jailed. He called on everyone to take a responsibility to fight injustice. Authorities denied King writing materials in Birmingham's jail. So, he wrote much of his "letter" on the margins of a newspaper and other paper scraps smuggled out.
In somewhat similar fashion, I am a messenger delivering Shuler's words to you now via rough notes from the jailhouse, where Shuler is being held and silenced.
These notes portray a shocking picture, including a massive failure by the nation's news media.
"I was surprised,” as Alabama’s ACLU Director Randall Marshall told me two weeks ago, “that there wasn't more of an outcry from the media world when this first happened." The ACLU filed a friend of the court brief, but is not representing Shuler.
What's At Stake
"I see this more as a kidnapping than a defamation case," Shuler told me from a visiting room in the jail. Let's examine why:
Shuler said the younger Riley, co-plaintiff with Duke against Shuler in the libel suits, also represents as counsel the county's jail system. Such a tight relationship between a favored litigant and law enforcement helps illustrate the concentration of political, financial and legal power that the well-connected Riley family has wielded in Alabama along with their allies, such as longtime Bush family advisor Karl Rove.
Their track record includes the notorious prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003).
Siegelman, imprisoned in Louisiana and shown at right in a file photo from better days, is scheduled to serve more than four years remaining from his trumped-up federal prosecution on corruption charges stemming from 1999 conduct. His crime? The gist is that the governor asked one of the richest men in the state, businessman Richard Scrushy, to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, and then re-appointed Scrushy to an unpaid state hospital board upon which Scrushy had served previously under three Republican governors to whom he donated.
Shuler has written hundreds of Legal Schnauzer columns documenting myriad legal misconduct in Siegelman's state and federal prosecutions, which enabled the Riley family to win and retain power without competition from Siegelman, the state's leading Democrat.
Regarding Shuler's own case, he cited to me this week major violations of precedent and procedure, such as prior restraint, secret courts, jailing without bond, and lack of an arrest warrant.
He said he did not even know why he was being held in the Jefferson County facility after being jailed in nearby Shelby County nearly all of the four previous months. He was able to inform his wife of his locale only because a fellow prisoner released last weekend kindly contacted her. (As of March 12, he was back at Shelby County's jail following phone inquiries by his wife.)
"I've been treated fairly well by fellow prisoners," Shuler told me. "But some of them come in hyped up on drugs, and I've barely escaped some vicious fights, typically over some little thing like who gets to use a phone for a 15-minute call. Anybody can get killed, and I saw it happen."
I have previously written about Shuler's arrest in a half dozen columns, such as Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story.
Most in the national media have abandoned Shuler and implicitly such First Amendment precedents as Sullivan that should have protected him along with the rest of the public.
From my experience reading Shuler's blogs regularly since 2009, he is a courageous, corruption-fighting writer who has gained a national audience with a number of important scoops and some questionable stories that are impossible for a reader to assess fully.
He writes about sex scandals, for example, far more than I would. Few of us are in the hotel rooms when politicians travel with their aides. So, we have little means to judge whether his claims are true. That is true also for one-sided statements about these tales arising in court cases. Commentary on court filings is legally protected but is not necessarily true.
That said, political insiders in Alabama and nationally often find such tales of great interest in their private conversations. Mainstream journalism organizations ignore it for publishing purposes, however, except when an "accidental" scandal erupts, especially against a disfavored target. Then the safety of pack journalism can justify reporting to the public about the scapegoat of the moment.
Even then, the public is rarely informed that some such sex scandals arise as deliberate hit jobs by political opposition researchers who store up dossiers for use when helpful in a political blackmail process. That part of the massive dark world of politics tends to remain off limits for the media, especially since at least a few journalists are complicit.
Instead, reporters pursue for the most part more routine fare from staged events whereby reporters function more as stenographers than independent, pro-consumer watchdogs. Industry events seek to retain some vestige of glamor by self-congratulatory awards ceremonies, participation by government, entertainment and media celebrities (especially in Washington) -- and, of course, high-minded rhetoric about the nation's free press and First Amendment freedoms.
The National Press Club, for example, has scheduled in cooperation with government officials a number of Sunshine Week and Freedom of Information events over the next month. But the club has not bestirred itself to write even a simple letter protesting Shuler's treatment despite many requests by me.
Similarly, the Society of Professional Journalists has done nothing in its array of venues despite at least ten requests by me to various officials nationally, in Alabama, or in my Washington, DC region. The Online News Association, founded to advance blogging and other online news, pleads lack of funds and other priorities when I have asked them to do something about Shuler's plight.
Worst of all has been Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I have yet to receive a single response as a member to my emails directed to several IRE executives on behalf of Shuler, an alumnus of the school.
IRE was founded in the late 1970s by journalism giants, including Bob Greene and Tom Renner of Newsday, and my Courant colleague Ted Driscoll, shown at left.
I saw first-hand that each of those named were beginning to see by the late 1980s that our news organizations were making behind-the-scenes decisions to undercut aggressive reporting on certain sensitive stories in a process camouflaged by national journalism groups like IRE that are heavily focused on awarding prizes and convening conferences that necessarily rely on corporate sponsorships.
Driscoll, in his mid-40s, had a lot to lose by speaking to me on the record about his own employer for my 1987 book Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper. That case study documented suppressed or inflated news stories. These including highly deceptive prize applications, including for Pulitzers. This prize process implicated complacent if not unethical journalists, especially at the editor and publisher levels. Motivated by ambition, they sought career-enhancing but unmerited honors instead of honest reporting within their communities.
Driscoll, a passionate old-school investigator much like Shuler, described the problem in words below. He cited two of the Courant's major but deeply flawed public service investigations of that era.
One series falsely scapegoated a prominent attorney, Joseph Fazzano, in a fatal, drunk-driving car accident. The other series involved state bridge inspectors whom the newspaper wanted indicted for fraud for collecting overtime while failing to identify structural problems at bridges. Indictments tend to enhance the chances for a journalism prize. My investigation showed that indictments were unjustified. Among other findings, I learned that state's top prosecutor fund evidence that the newspaper erred. He told me that he as a law enforcer, could not in good conscience prosecute innocent men because of pressure from the newspaper to help achieve its goals. But the series on bridge inspections became a major prize winner at IRE and at other journalism organizations, thereby advancing the Courant management's goals that I summarized in Spiked as "profits, prizes and [community] pacification."
Driscoll, now deceased and a member of Connecticut's Society of Professional Journalists "Hall of Fame," told me for publication:
The bottom line of it is they have turned this into a dishonest newspaper. It's run by opportunists, career-minded people. They couldn't care less what the actual facts were with the Fazzano case or with the Bridge inspectors, or anything else. They don't care. Their minds are elsewhere. That is "the story." And that's what people have to be concerned about.
As a result of my research, past applications for Pulitzer Prizes were removed from public view. That restricts independent research like mine on the accuracy of promotional claims in applications by news executives who might be ambitious, careless or deceitful. Problem solved.
Recapping Shuler Case Background
Shuler and his wife, Carol, have virtually no funds. Roger Shuler said his wife has lost 30 pounds from stress as she hides in their home in fear of being arrested on a pending contempt order, which Roger Shuler says is unjustified because she had nothing to do with his reporting before his arrest.
Riley, a wealthy wheeler-dealer who recently shared in the legal fees from helping lead a $500 million settlement of a fraud case against businessman Richard Scrushy. Riley is the son of two-term GOP governor Bob Riley (2003-2011), who is shown at right.
Last year, the younger Riley was reputed to be a likely candidate for the Birmingham region’s congressional seat. Then came Shuler’s columns claiming the married Riley had had an affair with Duke resulting in an abortion and dissolution of her marriage. Shuler alleged that an affair occurred between 2005 and 2007, and that Republicans contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 in secret payments benefiting Duke.
As further background, Dana Jill Simpson, a former Republican lawyer and political opposition researcher, gave sworn testimony in 2007 to Congressional staff that the younger Riley was involved in a plot with Karl Rove and other Republicans to remove Siegelman from politics by framing him on criminal charges.
My five years of investigative reports have confirmed her analysis despite the denials of Riley, Rove and other players. Among many similar findings of a frame-up have been a CBS 60 Minutes report in 2008 that featured Simpson and others describing specifics. Conservatives George Will, Paul Craig Roberts and Neal Cavuto are among many who have wondered how Siegelman and Scrushy could have been convicted. That position was affirmed in a more scholarly manner by 113 former state attorneys general in an unprecedented petition to the U.S. Supreme Court unsuccessfully arguing that Siegelman's conduct was routine for elected officials throughout the nation, and does not constitute a crime.
But courts have rejected in-depth scrutiny, and there is no record of an aggressive investigation by either the Bush or Obama Justice Department, only whitewashes. Well-connected Democrats cooperated with Republicans in avoiding investigation and court review. Among them have been Obama Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Solicitor Gen. Elena Kagan and Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, who quit the House Judiciary Committee in late 2007 before his run for his state's governorship and his switch to the Republican Party.
Further details are available by searches on this site, which contain links to dozens of other news reports and court filings. The overall portrait of corruption -- and my answers to the mysteries -- are provided in my recent book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. The gist is available also on this website in its many columns on political prosecution as a tool beneficial to Republicans and Democrats alike in certain circumstances.
The goal? Career opportunities, including riches beyond measure for insiders involved in government jobs, contracts, court decisions and regulations benefiting cronies.A Strange Development
Also, he declined my offer to leave him several pieces of paper and pen so that he could try write legal papers seeking his release or appeal major procedural decisions that are clearly in violation of settled law.
"I know the guards would take the paper and pen as soon as you left," he told me. "I would love to have paper and pen, and be able to make filings to get out of here. But it's no use. You have to get materials like that from the jail commissary."
He has several judges arrayed against him.
But his chief tormenter, Claud (sic) Neilson is not even a real judge elected to serve in the jurisdiction by standard procedures.
Neilson, shown in a file photo, is an attorney who represents plaintiffs against the state's leading civil rights law firm, Sanders and Sanders, in a politically charged multimillion-dollar suit. Details are here: Selma's once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who notoriously ignored the U.S. Supreme Court's establishment of religion holdings in the so-called "Ten Commandments Case" a decade ago, brought Neilson out of retirement in mysterious circumstances last summer. Moore named Neilson to serve as a part-time state judge to handle the Shuler case, whose docket and courtroom were kept secret during its main procedures.
The beating and jailing of Shuler last October had the effect of silencing a major regional pro-consumer voice in Alabama and the Deep South, especially after financially strapped mainstream news organizations cut back on their coverage of such government functions as courts, law and police. Birmingham's daily newspaper (one of whose predecessors employed Shuler as a reporter for nine years) is published in print just three days per week to save money, for example.
Even those who do not care about Shuler, his reporting, and the subjects of his commentaries might care about the national civil rights precedents being undermined with scant protest by his treatment. Those Constitutional protections were created by the founders and solidified by the courts to protect the public, not just reporters.
In 1813, for example, the Supreme Court voided by a 5-4 vote in U.S. v. Hudson and Goodwin the criminal convictions for seditious libel against the publishers of the Hartford Courant for their 1806 criticism of then-President Thomas Jefferson. In arguably the first free press case before the high court, the justices ruled that criminal convictions in the new nation must be on the basis of written law, not simply "common law" or other such informal legal tests.
The Courant was my first employer when I began my journalism career in 1970. I worked there as a reporter for 14 years, with an interlude as interim Sunday magazine editor. Later, my study of the Hudson and Goodwin libel prosecution provided a historical backdrop for my first book, Spiked.
In 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court took another major step on behalf of vigorous reporting in its Near v. Minnesota ruling, which forbade courts from ordering "prior restraint" of news articles and speeches of all kinds before a finding of liability even if the publisher and the allegation each might offend local sensibilities.
Perhaps most importantly of all these cases, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964 overturned by a 9-0 vote a $500,000 libel judgment Alabama authorities had won against civil rights leaders and the New York Times.
The Sullivan verdict against Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner L. B. Sullivan also overturned nearly $300 million in similar libel verdicts in the Deep South against the media. The ruling created a special "absolute malice" standard for reporting about obvious public figures such as Sullivan, Robert Riley and Luther Strange (and arguably the female plaintiffs as well).
This safe harbor for reporters -- and indeed all citizens -- to discuss public affairs whether in print or in speech thereby enabled vigorous national news coverage of the civil rights movement and all other public figures and issues since then. As a reminder, defendants in that case were not simply the New York Times, as anyone in journalism knows, but also citizens who had used the Times to portray the pro-segregation track record of Sullivan and other local officials.
Theoretically, that Supreme Court holding protects everyone -- except Shuler, apparently.
His judges have never applied the Sullivan standard to my knowledge, although it is impossible for outside observers to tell since the most relevant parts of his ordeal occurred in a sealed courtroom with a sealed docket. Court deputies barred from attending his key November hearing before Neilson any observers, except the judge's brother, who wanted to meet the wealthy wheeler-dealer plaintiff Riley, as I reported previously.
There are other legal principles besides Sullivan and Near being violated in the Shuler case. Among them is due process, which that includes open dockets and open courtrooms.
At the root is basic fairness: the opportunity to be heard, including the opportunity to have a lawyer, or at least paper and pencil and a way to communicate with the courts while not being held in chains and berated by the judge whose appointment is of mysterious origin. I have reported previously on these irregularities, which are too numerous to summarize here again.
In closing, I return to the Sullivan case.
It is the most relevant precedent being ignored. Also, this is the anniversary year of that famous press freedom case. It arose from the darkest days of the civil rights struggle in Alabama, and is now being ignored by a new generation of law enforcement oppressors in Alabama and also nationwide by relatively comfortable professors and other professionals within the journalistic establishment who find every excuse, it seems, to avoid to taking a stand.
There is snobbery at work here. Many will rally to the defense of an elite reporter at a major news organization that creates a free press campaign.
Shuler, on the other hand, is one a-person operation. His site was the only one in a ranking of the top 50 legal blogs in the country that was not run with organizational funding. So, he has little if anything to offer his supporters but his writing.
But that is part of a larger tradition. Tom Paine was a mere one-man "blogger" by today's standards, even when his pamphlet Common Sense sold two million copies in the American colonies.
Even Barzillai Hudson and George Goodwin, publishers of America's largest newspaper during the Revolutionary War, were sentenced to prison for having the temerity to criticize President Jefferson, otherwise famous as an advocate of the free press.
Not everyone can have the eloquence or important issues of Martin Luther King (shown at right), Tom Paine, or even Hudson and Goodwin -- who also helped create a uniquely American language by publishing former Courant reporter Noah Webster's dictionary and speller.
Last week, however, I gained a first-hand sense of passion of the ongoing civil rights struggle from the ministers and other civil rights advocates I met during five days in Selma on my Alabama trip commemorating the Bloody Sunday march of 1965.
Much on the minds of protesters was the Supreme Court's 5-4 cutback last June on Deep South voting rights in Shelby County v. U.S. and the continued imprisonment of Siegelman.
Yet every injustice worth fighting does not need to be of historic scale. We can do something about everyday issues within our control.
In that spirit, I am asking every reader who made it this far into this column and who is also a member of journalism organization to ask that organization for its stance on the Shuler case.
This is not to say Shuler is correct in his findings or that he should not be punished if proven wrong. That's in the future after due process.
For now, his rights have been stolen. So have ours. Once upon a time, people fought for those rights. Let's do so again today.
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
AL.com, Legal Schnauzer blogger thankful to be freed from jail; maintains First Amendment rights violated, Kent Faulk, April 2, 2014. A Shelby County man released from jail last week after five months for refusing a judge's order to remove comments on his blog says he is thankful to be out of jail but maintains the court-ordered censorship violated his constitutional rights. "I'm very thankful to be out of jail. It was an extremely difficult experience, physically and mentally," Roger Shuler stated in an email Tuesday night to AL.com in response to a request for comment. A judge ordered Shuler released, at least temporarily, on March 26 after his wife, Carol, recently removed certain comments on Shuler's blog Legal Schnauzer. The judge had ordered Shuler arrested on a contempt charge in late October after he did not remove comments the judge had ruled were defamatory against the son of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. "I had hoped to be released much sooner than this, with the help of legal counsel that could have argued that the preliminary injunction in my case was improper under roughly 200 years of American law. It's a classic prior restraint, the kind that long has been forbidden under the First Amendment," Shuler wrote in his email. "Outside legal counsel was slow in developing, and I couldn't argue the case for myself from inside the jail, so over the course of several weeks my wife figured out how to remove certain items as ordered by the court and gained my release. I see her as a hero in this, operating under very stressful conditions," Shuler wrote.
Legal Schnauzer, Legal Schnauzer Publisher Roger Shuler Is Released After More Than Five Months in Alabama Jail, March 27, 2014. Roger Shuler, a veteran journalist and publisher of the Legal Schnauzer blog, was released yesterday afternoon from the Shelby County Jail, where he had spent more than five months from the fallout of a defamation lawsuit. Shuler was released about 4:15 p.m. at the jail in Columbiana, Alabama, where he had been the only incarcerated journalist in the Western Hemisphere. The arrest and incarceration has drawn national and international news coverage. Among the media outlets providing coverage are the New York Times, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, Salon, Think Progress, WhoWhatWhy, FireDogLake, and more. Journalist/Attorney Andrew Kreig has provided ongoing in-depth coverage at his Washington-D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project. Radio host Peter B. Collins has provided regular updates from his base in San Francisco. Alan Colmes, of Fox News Radio, conducted a jailhouse interview with Shuler just last week, via telephone.
"I am grateful to have my freedom restored," Shuler says. "I also am grateful for the support of many readers, friends, and justice-focused citizens. This has been a traumatic experience for me and my wife, Carol, who has done a wonderful job of keeping our audience updated in my absence. Jail, of course, is not meant to be a pleasant experience, and I can provide first-hand testimony that it definitely is an unpleasant place to be, more so than probably many of us can imagine. It takes a tremendous physical, mental, and emotional toll."
Updated News Coverage
WAPI-AM (Birmingham), Interview of Andrew Kreig on Roger Shuler Case, host Matt Murphy, March 27, 2014.
WVNN-AM/FM, Andrew Kreig Interview on Roger Shuler Case, Interview by Dale Jackson, host of The Attack Machine, March 26, 2014. WVNN (770 AM) is a news/talk formatted radio station in Athens, Alabama. Owned by Cumulus Media, it simulcasts on WVNN-FM (92.5 FM) licensed to Trinity, Alabama. This combo primarily serves the Huntsville, Alabama market, though it can also be heard in the Florence-Muscle Shoals market. Notable weekday programming includes a local show hosted by Dale Jackson; plus syndicated shows hosted by Bill Bennett, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Mike Gallagher, and Michael Medved. Many well-known talk radio hosts spent early portions of their careers hosting local shows at WVNN, including Sean Hannity.
Liberaland, Roger “Legal Schnauzer” Shuler Released From Jail, Dave Dr. Gonzo, March 27, 2014. Roger Shuler, a veteran journalist and publisher of the Legal Schnauzer blog, was released yesterday afternoon from the Shelby County Jail, where he had spent more than five months from the fallout of a defamation lawsuit. The Doc can also tell you that Alan is too modest to take any credit for his part in the development, but if you don’t think that there is any coincidence between the timing of the jailhouse interview and Shuler’s release, consider this: if you were a Republican politico in Shelby County or the Alabama statehouse, how would you feel about FOX News Radio picking up the story of a liberal blogger essentially being held hostage following one of the most incompetent and underhanded attempts to serve legal papers in the state’s history?
Alan Colmes Show, Fox News Talk Radio Jailed Journalist Roger Shuler, Interview by Alan Colmes, March 20, 2014.
Recent Alabama News
Crooks and Liars, Journalists Leave Roger Shuler To Rot In Alabama Jail, Karoli, March 18, 2014. Is freedom of the press only for the journalists in their own circles? Why no outcry about Roger Shuler's endless incarceration? It's amazing to me that Roger Shuler's rights are being violated this way, that he's not being given the right to a trial or any due process, and journalists everywhere shrug. Andrew Kreig of the Justice Integrity Project interviewed Roger recently, and took journalists to task for turning the other way and pretending this isn't happening right here in this country.
Professors Blogg (Sweden), Corruption-fighting journalist Roger Shuler still jailed after five months, Edited by Prof. Marcelllo Ferrada de Noli (shown in file photo), March 19, 2014. Andrew Kreig offers a timely report on an American journalist still being jailed after nearly five months for his investigative reporting. Longtime readers may recall both Andrew and the jailed reporter Roger Shuler as breaking important stories in late 2010 that revealed how U.S. political strategist Karl Rove was advising Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Andrew’s multiple columns for us complemented our probes into the hidden agendas behind Sweden’s vast litigation to question Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Fox News Talk Radio The Alan Colmes Show Liberaland, The “Legal Schnauzer” Calls From The Dog House, March 20, 2014. JIP Director Andrew Kreig arranged an interview for Roger Shuler from Shelby County's jail with Fox News Talk Radio Host Alan Colmes. See also, Legal Schnauzer, Attorney, Author Andrew Kreig Visits Legal Schnauzer Publisher Roger Shuler in Jefferson County Jail, March 18, 2014. Attorney and author Andrew Kreig of Washington, D.C. visited Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler at the Jefferson County Jail on Monday, March 10. Kreig had traveled to the state on Thursday, March 6, to take part in that weekend's commemoration of the Selma march anniversary. Thankfully, however, Kreig was able to finally meet with Shuler on Monday in the jailed journalist's second only visit by a reporter since his arrest on Oct. 23.
Fox News /Liberaland, My Jailhouse Interview With Roger Shuler, Alan Colmes, March 21, 2014. Roger Shuler of Legal Schnauzer has been jailed since October for refusing to remove material from his blog and for refusing to agree to not write about certain persons. This prior restraint is considered a violation of the First Amendment. Shuler recounts the manner in which he was arrested as abusive, and discusses his plight to get an attorney to represent him. And there are some corrections made to a New York Times story about his case. Roger Shuler is the only Western Hemisphere journalist to be named in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of imprisoned news workers anywhere in the world. That an American journalist has been treated in this manner is obviously extremely troubling, as is the little attention Shuler has received from the so-called mainstream media.
The Covert Report, NDAA, Alabama Style: Roger Shuler’s Fight for Freedom, Interview by Susan Lindauer, March 15, 2014. "Indefinite detention" strategies reminiscent of NDAA are popping up all over America as a way of silencing dissident voices. Today's guest is Carol Tovich Shuler. Her husband is Roger Shuler, a highly respected Alabama blog journalist. Shuler was beaten and arrested in October, 2013. Shuler has refused to remove blog posts [alleging] that the ambitious son of a two-term Republican Governor, named Rob Riley, used $300,000 from GOP PAC moneys to pay for the abortion and hush money to his mistress. Riley is married and a deacon in his Southern Baptist Church. He's also a virulent opponent of abortion rights for ordinary Alabama women. Former Presidential hopeful, John Edwards, faced Trial and possible imprisonment for abusing campaign slush funds to bring his mistress & their child on the campaign trail. There's serious question as to whether Rob Riley's conduct should be subject to a federal criminal investigation for abuse of campaign funds on the same grounds. Whatever you think of abortion itself, there's question if Riley sought to conceal the use of campaign donations from Republican contributors, who most certainly would oppose the use of their donations to pay hush money for an extra-marital abortion.
Legal Schnauzer, Publisher Roger Shuler Will Appear at Jefferson County Hearing on Wednesday, March 5, Roger Shuler, March 3, 2014. Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler will appear at a hearing March 5 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. The hearing, before Judge Don Blankenship, is in a lawsuit filed by Republican political figure Jessica Medeiros Garrison. The hearing reportedly will involve an attempted default judgment that Garrison is seeking. Shuler is unlawfully incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail because of a lawsuit filed by Rob Riley, one of Garrison's Republican political allies.
Al.com, Judge 'conditionally' rules Luther Strange won't be forced to testify at Lowell Barron trial, Paul Gattis, March 12, 2014. A judge today conditionally denied a subpoena request by former state Sen. Lowell Barron to force state Attorney General Luther Strange to testify at Barron's trial next month. Barron's attorney, Joe Espy, said in court last week that Barron was seeking Strange's testimony about how campaign funds are frequently used. Espy also filed almost 200 pages of Strange's campaign documents outlining money given to a former campaign aide. Barron and Rhonda Jill Johnson, a former campaign worker, have been indicted on six counts of violating the state's campaign and ethics laws. They are scheduled to go to trial on April 14. Editor's Note: See also the result in the John Edwards campaign finance/sex scandal case. Washington Post, John Edwards will not be retried, Justice Department announces, Manuel Roig-Franzia, June 13, 2012.
Legal Schnauzer, Dietz v. Perez Case in Virginia Proves that Legal Schnauzer Publisher is Unlawfully Incarcerated, Roger Shuler, Feb. 27, 2014. A recent First Amendment case proves Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler is unlawfully incarcerated. Dietz v. Perez holds that a preliminary injunction in an alleged defamation case is an unlawful prior restraint under the First Amendment. It's the most recent national case to make that finding adding to the roughly 230 years of U.S. law on the subject. Jane Perez heaped criticism on Dietz contractors after she felt that they botched the home repair job. She went onto consumer sites help and Angie's List to state her criticism, and Dietz responded by suing her and asking a judge to force her to remove critical comments. The judge refused to grant a full injunction, but he did force Perez to remove comments about two issues. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling and said that Perez could not be forced to remove the comments.
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.
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Comment
David Cuillier, right, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and a professor at the University of Arizona, responded as follows to my request for comment:
I can't speak for the SPJ members in the region or state, but at the national level it's just a matter of FOI triage. We have a lot of issues keeping us busy now that affect a lot of people: the federal shield law, strengthening FOIA, etc. As a volunteer-based organization, we try to focus on matters that help the most journalists. Also, I've suggested several times that he look into applying for assistance through the SPJ Legal Defense Fund, and I believe someone is working on a story for Quill about the jailing of journalists.
My Reaction To SPJ Comment
Roger Shuler has been in jail with no lawyer and unable to communicate except via calls to his wife. No one from SPJ has spoken to her.
SPJ is focused on abstractions. Meanwhile, a live human being is jailed unlawfully in violation of his First Amendment rights. The group appears to be seriously out of touch.
General Press Freedom Issues
JonathanTurley.org, The Fourth Estate: Fifty Years After 'New York Times v. Sullivan,' Jonathan Turley, March 13, 2014. Jonathan Turley, shown in a file photo, is a prominent First Amendment scholar. The New York Times v. Sullivan decision, and its progeny, was a major reason why the United States was once viewed as the world’s leading protector of press freedom. Now fifty years later, the United States is viewed as a growing menace to press freedom. In this year’s World Press Freedom Index by the respected Reporters Without Borders organization, the United States ranked forty-sixth in the world.
Justice Integrity Project, U.S. Drops 13 Places To 46th On 'World Press Freedom Index,' Andrew Kreig, Feb. 10, 2014. The United States experienced a major decline in press freedom over the past year according to the new annual study announced Feb. 11 by Reporters Without Borders. "2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the modern history of the United States," said New York Times investigative reporter James Risen on a panel at the National Press Club announcing the results in Washington, DC. Risen, a Pulitzer-winner and noted author who has fought the threat of jailing for years because he is determined to protect a reputed CIA source, was flanked by Reporters Without Borders United States Director Delphine Halgand and panelist Huong Nguyen in the photo at right by Noel St. John.
National Press Club, When Press Offices Block the Press, March 19, 2014. A National Press Club panel on March 19 will discuss the first-ever national surveys that document reporters' perceptions about whether government press offices interfere with reporting. The forum is timed to occur during Sunshine Week, which is an annual series of events in mid-March that spotlights the importance of transparency, especially government openness. The Society of Professional Journalists sponsored one national survey of political and general assignment reporters working at the state and local level. SPJ also joined with the Education Writers Association to sponsor a separate survey of the nation's education reporters. The surveys were led by Dr. Carolyn S. Carlson, a communication professor from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. In the last two years, surveys by Carlson have stirred discussion about the widespread movement in recent times in which government agencies and other entities bar employees from speaking to reporters unless they go through public affairs offices. Her work has also shone a light on delays and other barriers that sometimes ensue after reporters contact public affairs staff. The previous studies found, for example, that most Washington-area reporters in the federal arena say agencies’ control over who they speak to is censorship and that such controls keep information from the public. She also found that 40 percent of government public affairs officers say they have blocked certain reporters due to “problems” with their previous reporting.
Civil Rights History
Atlantic, Today Is the 50th Anniversary of the (Re-)Birth of the First Amendment, Andrew Cohen, March 9, 2014. On March 9, 1964, a unanimous Supreme Court reversed a libel verdict against the New York Times in a case brought by Alabama officials who complained about a civil rights advertisement in the paper. The First Amendment, thankfully, hasn't been the same since.
Atlantic, Martin Luther King's 'Letter From Birmingham Jail,' The Editors, April 16, 2013. Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King wrote this landmark missive. It was republished several months later in The Atlantic.
Wikipedia, The Letter from Birmingham Jail (also known as "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" and "The Negro Is Your Brother"). This is is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr. The letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. After an early setback, it enjoyed widespread publication and became a key text for the American civil rights movement of the early 1960s. King met with unusually harsh conditions in the Birmingham jail. An ally smuggled in a newspaper from April 12, which contained "A Call for Unity": a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods. The letter provoked King and he began to write a response on the newspaper itself. King writes in Why We Can't Wait: “Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly black trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me.”
Legal Schnauzer, Rob Riley Had An Affair With Lobbyist Liberty Duke, Leading to Pregnancy And Payments For Abortion, July 2, 2013. A prominent Alabama Republican had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist that led to a pregnancy and payments for the woman to have an abortion. Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former GOP governor Bob Riley had an affair with Liberty Duke, a lobbyist based in Clanton, Alabama. When Ms. Duke became pregnant, Republican insiders paid her to have an abortion and stay quiet on the subject, multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer. Total payments reportedly were in the $250,000 to $300,000 range. Who was involved in the payment of hush money to cover up Rob Riley's transgressions? Our sources are not certain about the financial flow chart, but it appears the funds came from Alabama GOP sources rather than coming directly from Riley. This raises a number of prickly ethical questions for a party that has consistently framed itself as "pro life" and "pro family" and against abortion rights. Liberty Duke did not respond to a voice message seeking comment. In a series of telephone interviews with Legal Schnauzer, Riley admitted knowing Liberty Duke, but denied having an affair with her. During our conversations, Riley angrily hung up on me multiple times.
Al.com via USA Today, Thousands march in remembrance of 'Bloody Sunday,' Alvin Benn, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, March 9, 2014. Thousands of activists walked across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday to retrace the steps of peaceful protesters who were beaten, gassed and run over by horses by Alabama authorities in 1965. The annual commemoration drew what could have been the largest attendance since the event began two decades ago. Local law enforcement officials are already planning for the 50th anniversary next March — something expected to be much larger.
Associated Press via Al.com, Selma's once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered, Phillip Rawls, Dec. 15, 2013. Hank Sanders is the only remaining partner in the firm that was once one of the most prominent African American law firms in the South. One of the South's prominent African-American law firms has disintegrated in a fight over money after helping black farmers nationwide win $1.2 billion in a discrimination case. The Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm in Selma once had nearly 40 employees and handled high-profile cases ranging from defending capital murder defendants to pursuing civil rights complaints. In recent years, it has shrunk dramatically and struggled with financial problems.
Wikipedia, Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old.
Sample of Early Shuler Coverage
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.
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.
HuffPost Live! Roger Shuler: Journalist Beaten & Arrested, Interview of Carol Shuler and Andrew Kreig by Freedom Watch Zone host Alyona Minkovski, right, 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. The prominent investigative blogger Roger Shuler was arrested and beaten by Shelby County sheriff's deputies in his Alabama garage.
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, right, 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.
Justice Integrity Project, Exclusive: Imprisoned Former Alabama Gov. Siegelman Backs Jailed Blogger, Denounces Corruption, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 8, 2013. Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003), now imprisoned in Louisiana, sent the Justice Integrity Project a guest column that opposes the jailing of Alabama reporter/blogger Roger Shuler on contempt of court charges arising out of a defamation suit in Shelby County.
Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Kangaroo Court Parades Liberal Commentator in Chains, Continues Indefinite Jailing, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 15, 2013. Alabama authorities paraded a shackled liberal pundit into court, where he was denounced Nov. 14 for recent news coverage about his jailing. The defendant was Roger Shuler, a 56-year-old commentator jailed on contempt of court charges Oct. 23 for publishing columns about a politically powerful GOP attorney.
New York Times, Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions, Campbell Robertson, Jan. 11, 2014. For over six years, Roger Shuler has hounded figures of the state legal and political establishment on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, a hothouse of furious but often fuzzily sourced allegations of deep corruption and wide-ranging conspiracy. Some of these allegations he has tested in court, having sued his neighbor, his neighbor’s lawyer, his former employer, the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Alabama State Bar and two county circuit judges, among others. Mostly, he has lost. 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.
Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 17, 2014. An Alabama judge imposed a 90-day sentence this week on corruption-fighting Alabama blogger Roger Shuler. Meanwhile, a New York Times reporter tried so hard to be balanced that he underplayed the damage to the public from the court system's outrageous confiscation of Shuler's rights.
Popehat, Alabama Blogger Roger Shuler Arrested For Violation of Unconstitutional Injunction, Ken White, Oct 27, 2013. There are a few things you should know about Roger Shuler, who blogs at "Legal Schnauzer." First, Shuler is creepy and crazy. (I formed that opinion by reading his blog.) Second, Shuler is a vexatious litigant, a serial pro se abuser of the court system.1 (I formed that opinion by researching records of his litigation history.) Third, Shuler is currently in jail, arrested for contempt because he violated an unconstitutional preliminary injunction — a classic prior restraint — prohibiting him from defaming the son of a former Alabama governor. Some people excuse or applaud the third thing because of the first and second things. They shouldn't. The First Amendment protects everyone — even creepy, crazy vexatious litigants. You should demand that the First Amendment protect people like that, because if it doesn't, it won't protect you when you need it. Editor's Note: The comments by White are excerpted here not because the Justice Integrity Project in any way endorses them but instead to show the extreme level of vitriol being leveled against Shuler from White, a commentator whom the New York Times quoted in the major mainstream news coverage of the case in January as if White were an informed and neutral observed commentator.
Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income. The trial judge was Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, shown at right in a photo by Phil Fleming shortly after the jury verdict on June 15, 2006.
Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, Andrew Kreig, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.
OpEd News, Judy White's Giving Thanks for Prison Visit: It's All Relative, Joan Brunwasser interview of Judy White, wife of imprisoned GOP former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, Nov. 29, 2010. Introduction by Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy. Over the last two months, we've discussed various aspects of your husband Gary's imprisonment. For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice. Editor's Note: White, a Republican who refused a plea deal because he felt it would require him to perjure himself to frame the Democrat Siegelman, is being held in Arkansas on a 10-year corruption term, thereby subjecting his family to a more than 560-mile roundtrip from home in Alabama on each visit.
Judy White: The Federal Bureau of Prisons may be the most hypocritical of all the federal agencies. They claim to "encourage" the prisoners "to maintain family and community ties," and state that BOP policy recognizes the importance of "maintaining family and community ties," which is codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, BOP Program Statements, etc.
At the same time, they make it difficult or impossible on the prisoners and families through placing the prisoners far from those very families and communities. And, for Gary in particular, they seem to go to great lengths to insure that, at the end of every visit -- a low point, having just said goodbye -- they subject him -- not everyone -- to being strip-searched, purely to inflict abuse and make sure he has an added cost of seeing his family."