Alabama blogger released after five months in jail

Roger Shuler, whose blog, Legal Schnauzer, specializes in allegations of corruption and scandal in Republican circles in Alabama, was released from jail on March 26, 2014, after spending more than five months in prison on contempt of court charges. Shuler was arrested on October 1, 2013, for failing to comply with a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from publishing certain stories on his blog. A Shelby County judge ordered Shuler’s release after his wife, Carol Shuler, removed most of the allegedly defamatory content, according to local news reports

The charges stemmed from a defamation suit brought by a local attorney, Robert Riley, Jr., son of a two-term former Alabama governor and a rumored future political candidate himself. The suit was related to Shuler’s blog posts in July 2013 that claimed Riley had an extramarital affair and had paid for his mistress to have an abortion. Riley vehemently denied the allegations.

In an interview with CPJ, Riley said he had a right to seek injunctive relief in a defamation case and that there was legal precedent for doing so. He said someone who decided “to make up a lie, destroy someone’s reputation, that’s not journalism.”

As the case was pending, the Circuit Court of Shelby County issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting Shuler from publishing more about the alleged affair. When Shuler continued to publish stories about Riley on his blog, the lawyer filed a petition asking that the blogger be held in contempt. He was arrested weeks later.

Leading press freedom and civil rights groups said the injunction contradicted decades of First Amendment jurisprudence and did so in complete secrecy, as all records in the case were initially sealed by the court. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press wrote: “Neither a default judgment nor a full adjudication on the merits of the defamation claims appears to have occurred. … Courts have determined that bans on speech prior to such determinations are prior restraints. The Supreme Court has found prior restraints to be presumptively unconstitutional and has never upheld one.”

On November 12, 2013, the judge in the case filed a permanent injunction against Shuler and said he would unseal the court documents. In a footnote in the ruling, the judge said Shuler would remain imprisoned until he complied with the order to remove the statements. Carol Shuler wrote on Legal Schnauzer at the time that her husband said in court that he could not remove the content from a jail cell. The blogger wrote on Legal Schnauzer after his release that “removal of the Web items was not our desired outcome” but that his wife had done it to get him out of jail.

In his March 2014 ruling, Judge Claud Neilson warned the blogger that he would have to comply with the November permanent injunction in the future or be held in contempt of court again, according to the local news website