Blogger Sent to Gulag

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Roger Shuler’s mug shot

Roger Shuler’s mug shot

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama–In a case troubling to free speech advocates, an Alabama journalist who blogged about allegations of a sordid affair between a powerful Republican scion and a lobbyist has been arrested and now sits in jail on contempt charges.

A judge has taken the extraordinary steps of not only sealing the file in the case, but ordering that the blogger’s posts be removed from the Internet.

Roger Shuler, 56, was arrested Oct. 23 on a warrant by deputies who were waiting when he returned to his Birmingham home from a trip to the local library.

His wife, Carol Shuler, told WhoWhatWhy that he was beaten and Maced by deputies who cornered him in his garage. His booking photo from the Shelby County Jail shows his left eye swollen shut.

For three weeks, he has sat behind bars in the county lockup in Columbiana, Alabama, held without bail on two counts of contempt of court and the add-on charge of resisting arrest.

Prior to his arrest, Shuler blogged that he was attempting to evade being served papers and forced into court. He claimed the attempts were illegal and therefore invalid on jurisdictional and technical legal grounds.

Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which is involved in the case, acknowledged that Shuler “didn’t do himself any favors.”

Still, the ACLU and others argue that Shuler’s jailing raises fundamental constitutional questions about prior restraint, secretive court proceedings and the covert power of legal and political cronyism in this Deep South state.

“This issue is important to journalists because they should not have to face jail over something they wrote,” Gregg P. Leslie, legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told WhoWhatWhy. “This goes beyond traditional reporters and bloggers — no one should be held in contempt of court and jailed for not taking something off of an Internet site, at least and until they have a chance to defend it in court and there’s a final court order finding it libelous. Even then, the punishment under libel laws is a monetary award to the injured party, not a coercive demand to stop speaking.”

Blog Alleges Affair, Abortion

The case is rooted in Shuler’s allegations of an affair in about 2006 between a scion of one of Alabama’s elite political families, Robert Riley, Jr., and Liberty Duke, a registered lobbyist in Alabama. Riley is a Birmingham lawyer and son of Bob Riley, a nationally prominent Republican who served as governor of Alabama from 2002 to 2010.

Former governor of Alabama, Bob Riley

Former governor of Alabama, Bob Riley

Shuler reported on his “Legal Schnauzer” blog that Duke got pregnant, and “Republican insiders” paid her as much as $300,000 to have an abortion and to “stay quiet on the subject.” Both Riley and Duke were married with children at the time of the alleged affair, though Duke was soon sued for divorce by her husband.

Liberty Duke

Liberty Duke

In late July, a few weeks after Shuler reported those details, Riley and Duke filed a defamation lawsuit against the journalist. Both have denied having a sexual relationship.

Robert Riley, Jr.

Robert Riley, Jr.

Judge Claud Neilson of Demopolis, Alabama, came out of retirement to preside over the case. He was appointed to the task by Roy Moore, the controversial state Supreme Court chief justice and a key player in GOP strategist Karl Rove’s Republican makeover of the Yellowhammer State’s high court.

Karl Rove

Karl Rove

In addition to the First Amendment ramifications, the case has implications beyond state borders. For two decades now, Alabama has been regarded as a kind of Shangri-La by the national Republican Party; it was the petri dish where Rove demonstrated that stealth micro-politics — the appointment of a particular partisan judge or prosecutor, for example – can pave the way to achieving broader political goals.

Shuler’s wife said Riley used his political connections to get special consideration from Judge Neilson. For example, the judge has sealed all records of the case and ordered Shuler to scrub the Internet of his stories about the affair—moves that the ACLU’s Marshall said are unprecedented.

The case does not appear under the normal search parameters—the names of plaintiffs and defendants–in the Alabama state court online database. When searched by its secret docket number, a blunt message appears: “This case is confidential.”

Neilson’s order runs counter to fundamental precepts of prior restraint from First Amendment case law, experts said. The case has attracted little attention in the major media—though it should, advocates say.

Last week, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter to Judge Neilson urging him to unseal the records of the case and rescind his contempt order as “unconstitutional prior restraint.”

Judge Claud Neilson

Judge Claud Neilson

ACLU Files Brief; It’s Secret, Too

Two days later, the ACLU of Alabama asked the judge’s permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. That too is sealed, although the group’s Marshall said it appeared the brief would be accepted by Judge Neilson.

“The brief argues two things,” Marshall said. “First, we argued that the injunction (ordering Shuler to remove his stories about Riley and Duke) is a prior restraint and therefore runs afoul of the First Amendment as well as the Alabama Constitution and, second, that the sealing of the entire record is a violation of the First Amendment.”

“It’s just hard to fathom that the motion to seal and the order sealing them are both sealed themselves, so you have no idea what the court is doing in this case,” Marshall said. “There is nothing in that document that shouldn’t be available to the public.”

Prior restraint of journalists by the government has been “presumptively unconstitutional” since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Near v. State of Minnesota ruling in 1931, which nullified a state law outlawing “malicious, scandalous and defamatory” publications.

In the Supreme Court’s gag order ruling in Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart in 1976, Chief Justice Warren Burger called prior restraint “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Marshall said nothing in state or federal law would sanction Judge Neilson’s actions in the Shuler case.

“It just seems to violate the First Amendment on its face,” he said. “I’m not aware of any time that the Supreme Court has upheld a prior restraint,” short of threatened publication of troop movements during wartime.

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‘Truth-Teller or Bomb-Thrower’?

By all accounts, Roger Shuler is a controversial figure in Alabama.

A native of Springfield, Mo., he studied journalism at the University of Missouri and spent 11 years covering sports for the old Birmingham Post-Herald. He then worked for 19 years at the University of Alabama – Birmingham, primarily as an editor in the publications office. The university fired him in 2008 after he began blogging critically about the cozy relationship between criminal justice and politics in Alabama.

Some Alabama politicians regard Roger Shuler as a mortal enemy. News accounts and commentaries have challenged both his credibility and the state’s right to hold him in jail.

A headline on a Birmingham News story about his arrest read, “Truth-teller or bomb-thrower? Legal Schnauzer blogger jailed after violating court order.”  A newspaper commentary that generally supported his position wrote:

Roger Shuler might be a wingnut conspiracy theorist and a crackpot. He might unfairly besmirch conservative Alabama politicians with little or no evidence to back up outlandish accusations. But he is certainly an American. As such, he certainly has a constitutional right to free speech, and that right certainly has been trampled by a judge in an Alabama circuit court.

Shuler used his Legal Schnauzer blog (named in honor of his dog, Murphy, after she died in 2004) to investigate the 2006 corruption conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. He frequently asserted that Gov. Riley and his son were part of a plot to frame Siegelman, a Democrat.

Murphy, the Schnauzer who inspired a blog.

Murphy, the Schnauzer who inspired a blog.

“I find him to be a very thorough and careful reporter,” said Peter B. Collins, a talk radio host in San Francisco, who said he has known Shuler and his work since 2005.

Collins said Shuler’s reporting on the alleged Riley affair was typical of his work in that it originated with his careful reading of a court filing.

He scrutinized the divorce file of Liberty Duke and her ex-husband, William Duke, and ascertained that it was a bitter end to a 14-year marriage. His reporting was buttressed by sources he has never identified.

“He starts with the public records, and when he writes about them, people contact him and say, ‘Well, I know a little more about that,’” Collins said. “I have very high confidence in his journalism. But even if the reports are flawed in any way, that’s not really germane at this point because the legal process for defamation would go forward on an unsealed basis…and Riley and Shuler can make their respective points in court.”

Collins said he is surprised that a case involving such high-stakes First Amendment issues has gotten so little attention from the national media. Perhaps it’s the venue.

“It’s a swamp there in Alabama,” Collins said.

Wife Barricaded in House

Carol Shuler was emotionally overwrought when reached by telephone by WhoWhatWhy. She said she and her husband were isolated—abandoned by friends and shunned even by Democrats and progressives who fear affiliation with a man who is a pariah to the GOP, which dominates the state.

She has barricaded herself in their home in the Broken Bow subdivision of Birmingham, fearing arrest if she leaves the house because she was named in the defamation lawsuits. She said she is depressed and “major stressed out.” She speaks to her husband by phone most mornings but hasn’t been able to visit him in jail.

The Shulers are under financial duress and were looking for a constitutional lawyer to take the case, pro bono. A Facebook support page and Shuler’s blog page were seeking donations for the couple. Carol Shuler said their inability to afford a lawyer was one factor in her husband’s avoidance of court paper service.

Judge Neilson has scheduled a telephone conference for Thursday on the case, and the Shulers hope to have legal representation by then.

 ‘Justice, Truth, American Way’

Through tears, Carol Shuler said she and her husband of 24 years have paid a high price for taking on Alabama’s political elite.

“Things have not been normal for so long, I’m trying to remember what sort of pleasantness we’ve had as a married couple,” she said. “I’m just tired of all this. I don’t really expect there will be a positive outcome. I’m sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the anvil to drop. Go ahead and pick your metaphor.”

She said her husband seemed to be holding up behind bars.

“He sounds good most of the time,” she said. “He’s a fighter, very smart, very detail-oriented, very principled, very strong sense of right and wrong…We both got in this fight for justice, truth and the American way. And now here we are.”

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IMAGE: Bob Riley  IMAGE: Liberty Duke IMAGE: Robert Riley, Jr.

IMAGE: Karl Rove IMAGE: Judge IMAGE: Bill of Rights IMAGE: Dog

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0 responses to “Blogger Sent to Gulag”

  1. Karen E. Hetherington says:

    A journalist is put in the gulag in America? This ain’t news!

  2. Mr. Ditba says:

    So they obviously have dirt on this “judge”…Welcome to Amerika

  3. abbeysbooks says:

    I do not have much sympathy for a blogger who delves into this tabloid crap and gets shafted.

  4. Ethenic Cage says:

    Although it is looking normal but there must have some “fishy” story behind this scandal.

  5. sidjames says:

    Sounds like a clear abuse of his rights.

  6. Gregnfc says:

    Remember that other pristine example of Southern faith, honesty, and integrity – John Edwards? Why does this remind me of him?!

  7. Gregnfc says:

    How can the truth be verified? Transfer of money – verification of abortion – some third party witnesses to liaisons between Riley and Duke would go a long way to verifying the story but none of that info seems to be forthcoming. Just accusations and denials. The whole thing smells funny to me.

  8. shawn davis says:

    They have freedom to do any thing but it is unexpected from the police .

  9. BackSpinBubba says:

    Where are all the Duck Dynasty fans screaming about “Freedom of Speech” now?

    • heroay says:

      there is a time to crook, and a time to pay the consequences. Karma is a you-know-what. Collective karma.

      Although i side fully with this Democ, on Constitutional grounds, their kind owe a lot to this nation. In subversive, dual loyalty, treacherous activities.

      Check which of all these Repubs are cozy with AIPAC, and you will have a RINO, like homo Rove. Now, Duckies to the rescue? Let’s let the clean on the Democs throw the first stone… Waiting….

  10. Bo Modén says:

    I think that Roger Shuler is an honest man who made enemies with the corrupted people high up there. He wrote some very interesting stuff about “turdblossom” Karl Rove . Karl et al did help to get the actual rightwing head of the government in Sweden mr Reinfeldt elected. There was some manipulations from National Endowment for Democracy meddling in the same elections. Now the US embassador to Sweden is the son of the top US security adviser “Zbig Brez”. Roger is doing an exellent work and now he need help.

  11. intalecshul says:

    Jeez, that’s scary. Sounds like something out of Clinton- era Arkansas.

  12. Yossarian says:

    Looks like. This yahoo Riley is being groomed for office perhaps? Pretty sad, but not unexpected in this police state.

  13. Agent Michael Scarn says:

    My advice to the Shulers and anyone that lives in a backwater cesspool that doesn’t understand the meaning of justice and liberty: Life is short and the world is large, spending your time hitting your head against a brickwall of ignorance only gives you brain damage. Take yourself, your family, your friends and journey to a place in the world where adults don’t behave like spoiled children. It does exist, you just have to find it for yourself.

  14. Biodude says:

    Sounds like the courtroom tactics typical of Democrat supported feminist family policy against fathers is being against Democrats. It doesn’t feel so good does it. See the chapter on Gag orders in Dr. Baskerville’s book ‘Taken Into Custody’. Dads are jailed daily for less.

  15. Any truth to the rumor that the Capital Building in Alabama burnt down and nearly took the whole trailer park with it?

  16. IsaacM50 says:

    America is a POLICE STATE! TERRORISM HAS WON! lol

    • InnerCynic says:

      One only has to be reminded of Dubya’s “They hate us for our FREEDOMS” and have a good side-splitting laugh about that howler.

    • heroay says:

      Not so. 146 Million armed Americans, with 326 Million guns, and some 10-20 Billion bullets, are an insurmountable barrier to the JWO. Molon Labe’!

    • IsaacM50 says:

      And they are paranoid, will shoot on sight, and care nothing about anyone’s freedom but their own. They are narcissistic whiner bitches…lol They are only a barrier to themselves.

    • heroay says:

      Mmmm…. you ARE referring to your tribe, right? Your JWO was just sunk by Putin, by sizzling WW3. Whatchagonnado now, eh?? Whine? Oink-oink!

  17. OsborneInk says:

    Thank you for covering this story. Here are photos and video from the scene of Shuler’s arrest: http://www.osborneink.com/2013/10/exclusive-roger-shuler-arrest-scene-photos.html

    • Michael Franklin says:

      Sir, I suggest that you allow the public to comment to this story (at osborneink) if you are going to invite them in to read it. I also looked for but could not find a way to contact/email the author of the above listed site on the blog.
      Thanks.

  18. Sliide says:

    AS the scope of power narrows, the breadth of oppression widens

  19. JosephConrad says:

    The Alabama GOP and Wealthy Old Redneck Whiteboys will see to it he DIES in prison! He knows to damn much to be allowed to live! He’ll die like Mike Mike Connell died after trying to get more money out of Karl The Racist Troll Rove for Fixing the Ohio presidential results in 2004! Hey, this is white Fascist America!

  20. David says:

    Republicanism is such terrible debilitating disease. The only known cure is an
    extra large dose of democracy.

  21. donjoy says:

    all in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

  22. lillyziger says:

    These are good people being driven to desperation by the crooked politicians and cops. This could happen to any one of us. The wealthy politicians time of covering up is now OVER and the truth is told.
    PLEASE share the story, make people aware and donate if you have the means. These 2 are heroes of modern america.

  23. donjoy says:

    Truth is a comodity,everyone wants it,needs it,bangs it out with there fists.If only they could be heard over the objections of the corrupt.

  24. donjoy says:

    corruption is as corruption does.Money and power go hand in hand with abuse and attrosities.Maybe,when he wins and the abuse by this judge and political figures he will a good case to sue the whole bunch of (rats) them.

  25. thebigoljewcanoe says:

    Lord, if only I was in Alabama, I’m just getting done polishing my rifle.

  26. Kaos Krumpy says:

    Dont talk back! You get a timeout! Now sit in the corner of a jail cell.

  27. Aliza says:

    Thanks for sharing this sad and incredibly troubling story. I will look for their Facebook page

  28. Roman Law says:

    Proving once again that Teapublican justice is neither blind nor unbiased.