Shuler, whose blog Legal Schnauzer specializes in allegations of corruption and scandal in Republican circles in Alabama, was arrested on contempt of court charges for failure to comply with an October 1, 2013, preliminary injunction prohibiting him from publishing certain stories on his blog. The charges stem from a defamation suit brought by prominent local attorney Robert Riley, Jr., son of a two-term former Alabama governor and a rumored future political candidate himself. The suit is related to Shuler’s blog posts in July 2013 that claimed Riley had an extramarital affair and offered details. Riley vehemently denies the allegations.
In an interview with CPJ, Riley said he has a right to seek injunctive relief in a defamation case and there is legal precedent for doing so. He said someone who decides “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 Schuler 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 ReportersCommittee 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. It was not clear whether the permanent injunction pertained only to past defamatory content, such as a takedown order, or applied to future speech. 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 that her husband said in court that he could not remove the content from a jail cell.