A court injunction that led to the arrest of an Alabama blogger last week could imperil free speech rights, a national organization said Monday. “Legal Schnauzer” blogger Roger Shuler was arrested Wednesday and held without bond in the Shelby County, Ala., jail on a contempt of court charge after he refused to comply with a preliminary court injunction that prohibited him from continuing to repeat accusations against the son of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley.
“Unfortunately for bloggers and free speech advocates, the injunction in the Shuler case could have a chilling effect,” Ali A. Akbar, president of the National Bloggers Club said in a press release Monday. “As a result, the National Bloggers Club believes the injunction, not the case itself, poses the real threat to bloggers.”
Robert R. “Rob” Riley Jr., son of the state’s former Republican governor, has filed a defamation suit against Shuler, a liberal blogger who has claimed that the younger Riley had a sexual affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke that led to Duke’s divorce. Shuler also faces a defamation suit from Republican activist Jessica Medeiros Garrison, over Shuler’s claim that she had an affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Shuler has also claimed that U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Pryor once posed nude for a gay-oriented magazine.
While most Alabama media have ignored Shuler’s claims aimed at high-profile Republicans in the state — Pryor was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2005 — the blogger’s arrest has drawn attention nationally, including from the Justice Integrity Project and the libertarian magazine Reason. Popular blogger Ken White, a California attorney who frequently defends free speech issues, described Shuler as “creepy and crazy … a vexatious litigant, a serial pro se abuser of the court system,” but criticized Judge Claude D. Neilson‘s injunction against Shuler:
Riley sued Shuler for defamation. That much is unremarkable. Defamation isn’t protected by the First Amendment when it constitutes false and unprivileged statements of fact.
But Riley went further. He got Alabama Circuit Judge Claude D. Neilson to issue a preliminary injunction — that is, an order issued before there’s been a trial — prohibiting Shuler from saying certain things about Riley …
That order — forbidding Roger Shuler from saying something before he says it — is called prior restraint, and it is widely acknowledged to be a violation of First Amendment rights in all but the most extreme circumstances.
Roger Shuler continued to utter his accusations about Riley despite the injunction. Riley asked the court to hold Shuler in contempt. … Though there are differing accounts, it appears that he was arrested for contempt for violating the unconstitutional injunction.
That view was endorsed by Akbar, whose organization was formed in 2012 to “to educate, provide access, and equip citizen-journalists to uphold the principles of the First Amendment and advocate for economic and individual freedom.”
“Shuler’s harassment has intentionally harmed good and decent people for his partisan agenda,” Akbar said in the National Bloggers Club press release (see full text below). “However, it is the position of the Club that even though Shuler has willfully avoided service, refuses to recognize when he was properly served and is posting sealed court documents, that the preliminary injunction placed against him puts too much at risk.”
Akbar noted the irony that he is defending Shuler’s First Amendment rights, even though Shuler last year published a series of articles claiming that Akbar was in a gay affair with GOP strategist Karl Rove. Akbar’s Alabama attorney, Baron Coleman, on Saturday sent Shuler a notice demanding a retraction of those “false and defamatory” articles within 10 days or “face swift and certain legal action.”
Shuler’s blog has long been controversial. In 2008, Shuler claimed he was fired from his job as an editor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham because of political pressure from Republicans. However, when Shuler filed a federal lawsuit, it was dismissed in a scathing January 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr., and Shuler’s appeal was was rejected by the 11th Circuit in July 2012. Referring to Shuler’s frequent claims that he is a victim of “fraud” and “corruption” by Republicans, Virginia attorney and blogger Aaron Walker wrote that “either this man has regularly been the target of vast conspiracies against him… or he is a paranoid little nutjob.”
* * * PRESS RELEASE * * *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 28, 2013
NATIONAL BLOGGERS CLUB WEIGHS IN ON ALABAMA BLOGGER ARREST CLAIMS A MIXED BAG
Several outlets recently reported on the arrest of former University of Alabama at Birmingham employee Roger Shuler. Shuler runs a hyper-partisan liberal blog called Legal Schnauzer, where wild conspiracies about Republicans and federal judges dominate Shuler’s content.
Authorities arrested Shuler October 23 on a warrant for contempt of court. Robert R. “Rob” Riley, Jr., son of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, sued Shuler recently for defamation stemming from Shuler’s repeated claims on his blog that Riley engaged in an extramarital affair, procured an abortion for the female involved in the alleged affair, and paid her to keep quiet.
On his blog, Shuler admitted to skipping an October 18 hearing in the case. Shuler also called the judge an “appointed whore” and claimed the “kangaroo court” had no jurisdiction over him. Authorities also charged him with resisting arrest.
In addition to the current defamation lawsuit involving Rob Riley, Shuler is also facing a second pending defamation lawsuit from Jessica Medeiros Garrison, a Birmingham, Ala., attorney Shuler alleges engaged in an extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. He is also being sued by Liberty Duke, whom Shuler alleges was involved in his claims of the supposed Riley affair.
An attorney for National Bloggers Club President Ali A. Akbar sent Shuler a request for a retraction that may result in a defamation lawsuit. In the October 26 letter from Montgomery, Ala., attorney Baron Coleman, Akbar offered a chance for Shuler to free himself of a third defamation suit by issuing a retraction within ten days or “face swift and certain legal action.”
The legal matter between Akbar and Shuler is not a legal matter of the National Bloggers Club, and Akbar is using personal funds to pursue Shuler.
The National Bloggers Club issued the following statement:
“Defamation is not free speech. Shuler’s harassment has intentionally harmed good and decent people for his partisan agenda.”
“However, it is the position of the Club that even though Shuler has willfully avoided service, refuses to recognize when he was properly served and is posting sealed court documents, that the preliminary injunction placed against him puts too much at risk.”
Shuler is not a member of the National Bloggers Club.
Whether an injunction is proper in defamation cases is an issue gaining an increased amount of attention from those within the legal community and those within free speech organizations. Free speech advocates often assert that injunctions in defamation suits against online publishers pose a serious risk to rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, many free speech advocates offer what they see as a remedy that might satisfy both sides of the argument, which is allowing for injunctions for statements determined to be false.
Unfortunately for bloggers and free speech advocates, the injunction in the Shuler case could have a chilling effect. As a result, the National Bloggers Club believes the injunction, not the case itself, poses the real threat to bloggers. Simply put, there is not a sufficient benefit to a plaintiff before the final determination truth or falsity to outweigh the impact an injunction has on the freedom of speech. There is an adequate remedy available when and if Shuler’s speech is declared defamatory. A more specific injunction can be placed on Legal Schnauzer and its authors at that time.
The National Bloggers Club condemns Roger Shuler and his rumormonger cyberbullying parading around under the guise of blogging. However, it strongly urges the court to lift the preliminary injunction.
It also prays Mr. Riley, Ms. Garrison, Ms. Duke, Mr. Akbar, and the other targets of Shuler get the legal relief they deserve.