By William Peacock, Esq. on January 15, 2014 3:13 PM
In November of last year, we were shocked to hear that Roger Shuler, the blogger that broke the rumors of a conservative Eleventh Circuit judge’s full-frontal porn past, had been jailed for exercising his free speech rights. A court found him in contempt after he refused to comply with an injunction that required him to take down posts discussing salacious rumors about Robert Riley, Jr., the son of a former two-term governor, and a lobbyist, Liberty Duke.
With powerhouses like the ACLU and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press lining up behind him, and against the prior restraint of free speech via a sealed court case, you’d think that he’d be released by now, especially considering the “trial” on defamation already concluded.
Nope. It’s been nearly three months. He now has the dubious distinction of being the only person from the Western Hemisphere to make the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of imprisoned journalists, right next to names from Iran, China, and Syria.
We’ve already covered the various organizations that lined up in court to argue that the sealing of the case, as well as the takedown order, were unconstitutional.
According to The New York Times, on November 14, a hearing was held on the injunction. Shuler took the stand, insisted that the court had no jurisdiction, and called the court a joke. The judge issued a permanent injunction that day, calling the proceedings a “trial on the merits,” and ordered Shuler to remove all posts regarding Riley and Duke, to cease from writing anything further on the alleged affair, and to pay them $34,000 in legal fees.
The posts remain online, and Shuler remains in jail.
Experts cited by the Times note what most of us would regard as obvious, and what seems to escape that particular Alabama court: you can’t ban speech without proof of libel, which has to require something more than a few one-sided hearings.
Then again, Shuler, who is familiar with the process from past lawsuits, has refused to participate.
Shuler ‘Is His Own Worst Enemy’
One expert, quoted by the Times, called Shuler “his own worst enemy.”
From the narrative drawn by the report, it sounds like Shuler and his wife were dodging process servers, both at home, and after a questionable traffic stop.
On the way to the library, the Shulers were pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign, and were served at that time, one day before the hearing. They tossed the papers out the car window, refusing to accept improper service, and missed the proceedings where the initial questionable injunction was issued.
The Times also notes that Shuler has refused to either hire a lawyer or to take down his posts. Shuler’s wife told Salon that the issue isn’t that they don’t want a lawyer — they simply cannot afford one.
Court’s Conduct Inexcusable
Even with the Shulers’ stubbornness and refusal to participate in the court proceedings, there is no excuse for the punishment that Roger Shuler has received.
On October 23, he was arrested in his garage, after deputies followed him to his house. He was reportedly maced and physically subdued. Since then, he’s been in jail for nearly three months, all over a blog post that, in the grand scheme of things, was probably read by a few hundred people.
From the sealed case, to the prior restraint on speech, to the arrest by force and abbreviated “trial,” every stage of this case should worry anyone who values free speech and a free press.
This is the blog post that caused all the trouble: