In Jailhouse Interview, Alabama Blogger Says He Won’t Budge

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Columbiana, Alabama—In his first interview since he was jailed last month for contempt of court, Alabama journalist Roger Shuler said he will stay behind bars indefinitely rather than comply with a judge’s “unlawful” order to scrub his blog of scandalous stories he posted about a powerful Alabama politician’s son.

“Free press, free speech, the First Amendment—none of this means anything to these people,” Shuler said. “I don’t see any reason I should remove the material. Is a person obliged to take an action based on a judge’s unlawful order?”

Shuler, 56, spoke to WhoWhatWhy by videophone at the Shelby County Jail in this town 30 miles south of Birmingham. He seemed determined, lucid and optimistic, and he said he had been treated well by guards and inmates alike at the 500-bed jail.

“It’s not real fun being here,” he said, “but I’m doing OK.”

WhoWhatWhy, which reported earlier on his arrest and the free press implications, was Shuler’s first jail visitor since his October 23 arrest. His visitations are limited to a 30-minute window each Sunday afternoon. He speaks to his wife, Carol, nearly every day by phone, but she is hunkered down in their Birmingham home, fearing arrest if she leaves since she is a party to the same contempt ruling.

Shuler said he was encouraged by the attention his controversial case has gained in the alternative media and news outlets in Alabama—positive or not.

“Whether he’s a First Amendment martyr or a scurrilous gossip-monger depends on who you ask,” reporter Mike McClanahan said of Shuler in a story aired on WIAT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Birmingham. The report called the case “a combination political soap opera and battle over the free press.”

“I’m actually pleasantly surprised that it’s getting out there,” Shuler said. “These cases are not easy for the public to comprehend.”

Roger Shuler on Jail Videophone

Roger Shuler on Jail Videophone

Affair and Abortion Alleged

The contempt citation that landed Shuler in jail without bail concerns his “Legal Schnauzer” blog posts earlier this year that alleged an affair between Liberty Duke, a lobbyist in Alabama, and Robert (Rob) Riley, Jr., a Birmingham attorney and namesake of a two-term Republican governor of Alabama.

Shuler reported 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 to other people at the time. They denied the affair and filed a defamation lawsuit against Shuler.

The stakes are high for Rob Riley, whose name has been floated as a likely candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant U.S. congressional seat in the Birmingham area.

Shuler said he stands by his reporting, with sources that “go right up to the Riley family.”

A retired Alabama circuit judge, Claud Neilson, was appointed to the case by Roy Moore, the controversial State Supreme Court chief justice. Neilson took the extraordinary steps of sealing the case file and ordering Shuler to remove all content about the alleged affair from his blog. When the stories were not taken down and Shuler failed to appear at court hearings, Neilson held him in contempt, ordered his arrest and jailed him without bail.

The Alabama ACLU and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have protested the judge’s scrub order as unlawful prior restraint under well-established First Amendment case law.

“The judge hasn’t made a single lawful order in this case,” Shuler told WhoWhatWhy.

Court Proceedings ‘an Insult to Kangaroos’

Wearing manacles, chains and jailbird orange, Shuler finally faced Neilson in court on Nov. 14, when the judge made permanent his injunction ordering Shuler to remove the blog content. According to Shuler, when he explained that he was unable to remove the posts while in custody, the judge curtly replied, “That’s your problem.”

“To call it a kangaroo court is an insult to kangaroos,” Shuler said. “It’s worse than a joke.”

The day after making that comment, he got a measure of affirmation from an unexpected source.

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would decline to hear the case of a convicted cop-killer from Montgomery who was spared the death penalty by an Alabama jury only to be subsequently sentenced to death anyway by the trial judge. Only three states allow the practice of “judicial overrides,” and 26 of the 27 overrides recorded since 2000 have occurred in Alabama.

In an unusual dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “Alabama stands alone” in the highly politicized practice, where judges are motivated by re-election, not justice. She wrote:

What could explain Alabama judges’ distinctive proclivity for imposing death sentences in cases where a jury has already rejected that penalty? There is no evidence that criminal activity is more heinous in Alabama than in other states, or that Alabama juries are particularly lenient in weighing aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.

She added:

One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “presided over more than 9,000 cases, includ­ing some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment.

The retired judge presiding over Roger Shuler’s case has also been singled out for blatant death penalty electioneering from the bench, WhoWhatWhy has learned.

Judge Claud Neilson was appointed by Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1974, when Neilson was still in his 30s. Like Wallace, Neilson was a Yellow Dog Democrat. He spent decades as a circuit judge covering three counties in west-central Alabama.

In 1994, he ran for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court. In a campaign ad, Neilson touted his fidelity to capital punishment, boasting that he “had looked into the eyes of murderers and sentenced them to death,” according to research by the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama nonprofit advocacy group.

Neilson lost in the primary. But he has been called on frequently to preside over special-assignment cases, like Rob Riley’s.

After one of those cases, concerning alleged misdeeds by a judge in Mobile, Neilson explained in an interview with a TV reporter that he uses a “gut feeling” judicial style.

“Well, I’ve been a judge for 35 years, and I have watched people testify in court, and I just had the feeling on some of them,” Neilson said. “It’s just something that if you’ve done it for as long as I have, you kinda size up people and kinda have a gut feeling that maybe they may not be telling the truth.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

About one-fifth of the 193 men and women on Death Row in Alabama were condemned through judicial overrides of jury sentences. The Equal Justice Initiative has produced numerous reports about the “unreliable, unpredictable and arbitrary” practice—so far to no avail in the Republican-dominated state.

Afraid to Answer the Door

The stakes are not quite so high for Shuler, but resolution won’t come easy.

Even some supporters have questioned Shuler’s strategies, suggesting he could have avoided jail by appearing in court when summoned. A Shelby County sheriff’s lieutenant says he served papers to Shuler on Sept. 29, but Shuler threw them out his car window.

Shuler insisted he was not legally served because the documents were not placed in his hand. He admitted he and his wife refused to answer the door when deputies visited his home a number of times in the weeks before he was arrested. He said they were afraid.

“We had a bunch of thugs come to our door,” he said. “It looked like a raid—like they were there to bust a meth lab.”

He said he is deeply suspicious of the criminal justice system in Alabama—one of the reasons Shuler said he will represent himself in the case, as he has done in a number of previous legal skirmishes.

He quickly added, “I’m not some whack job who doesn’t want help. I want legal help, but it has to be the right kind of help. I’ve had some bad experiences with lawyers, and those experiences tell me that lawyers tend to take your money and represent the other side.”

Blog Emerged After Dispute With Neighbor

His skepticism is informed by the original inspiration for his blog: a barking-dog dispute with a new neighbor in 1998 that escalated into a long, bitter, costly court battle.

Shuler lost, even after paying lawyers $12,000. In his first blog post, on June 3, 2007, the former newspaperman and university publications editor wrote:

I used to think that I probably would never be involved in a court case. And if I was somehow involved, I figured the judge (or judges) surely would rule according to the law. After all, they wear robes, we call them “your honor,” we rise when they come into the courtroom. Of all people, surely a judge would be honest.

This blog will show you how wrong I was. It will show you how judges and attorneys conspire to cheat some people and favor others. It will show you how politics raises its ugly head in our courtrooms. It will show you how you can figure out if you are being cheated by a judge or an attorney (even your own!). And it will show you what you can do about it.

Soon, Shuler was posting as frequently as five times a week with stories—most featuring his own research—about what he called “a culture of corruption that permeates Alabama’s justice system.” His favored subjects involve duplicity, corruption and moral indiscretion by the Deep South political elite.

Among the stories he has featured:

Advocacy on behalf of Don Siegelman, a Democratic former governor of Alabama who was convicted on controversial corruption charges.

Broad criticism of Bob Riley, his latest legal adversary’s father, who served as governor of Alabama from 2002 to 2010.

Judicial corruption across the Deep South.

Relentless criticism of the legal profession for, among many other things, its failure at self-regulation.

Karl Rove, the Republican politico who used Alabama to test his Texas-born strategies of politicizing state judges by finagling appointment of pro-business Republicans to a judiciary that had been largely Democratic.

Don Siegelman

Don Siegelman

And then there are the more tawdry subjects, like the Riley-Duke stories.

In September 2013 alone, Shuler revealed an alleged past affair involving Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and a former campaign aide, and he posted a nude photo (allegedly from a gay porn site in 1997) that purported to show William Pryor, a federal circuit judge from Alabama.

Shuler is unapologetic. He said he views his reporting on personal indiscretions as comeuppance for hypocritical public figures who campaign on family and faith but live quite differently.

WhoWhatWhy asked Shuler about his endgame.

“I want to play offense,” said the former sportswriter. “I’m not just playing defense.”

He said he saw a number of legal issues on which he could base “major counterclaims.” Of course, any legal action he brings would go through the same court system that he sees as hopelessly corrupt.

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IMAGE: Justice Sotomayor IMAGE: Siegelman

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16 responses to “In Jailhouse Interview, Alabama Blogger Says He Won’t Budge”

  1. Chris Herz says:

    Maybe Shuler should have fled to Russia or Brazil. Alabamans must love their corrupt and fascistic government, they certainly like voting for it. Why anyone would choose to live there is beyond me.

  2. Lawless1 says:

    This is our justice system nationwide, federal & state. There hasn’t been any real justice in our judicial system for 50 years, at least! Unless a miracle happens we are watching the “fall of America”, we have degenerated into a nation of liars, and self-centered, arrogant, careless people. And before anyone takes umbrage at the generalization, let me point out that while it may not apply to every American, as far as the rest of the planet is concerned it’s just Americans and they aren’t thinking of us as individuals. Any more than Americans did when they thought of Muslims after 9/11. As we go down from our own internal destruction the world will, no doubt, applaud the death of the arrotant bully that is America; and won’t lift a finger until it’s time to divide the spoils.

  3. Angela Mason says:

    Sad to say…it’s not just in Alabama, a state I consider “home” as I spent many formative years there. It’s happening here in Illinois, and, specifically, to us: the courts are being put in a position to determine what a journalist can and cannot write about, all of it on the basis of violating Prior Restraint, and we have been battling it for three years now. I can’t encourage Roger Shuler enough…and I thank WhoWhatWhy for its coverage of this atrocity.

  4. Carroll Price says:

    The “good ole boy” political system has always played a pivotal role in deep South politics, but remains especially alive and well in Alabama. The state’s legal system thrives on it and any lawyer or judge who bucks the system soon finds himself sidelined into obscurity.

  5. David Mowers says:

    The country is on a path to destruction and quite frankly, maybe it needs to burn. It is high time ordinary folk said enough and started acting on their violent impulses.

  6. Tested says:

    I hope Mr. Schuler reads this: We are all behind you, sir.

  7. Liberal Dogma says:

    I only know the shocking facts of Don’s railroading thanks to Roger Schuler, stumbling upon legalschnauzer.

    Just one of the shockers: the supposed crimes were past the Statute of Limitations, nevertheless the Siegelman trial proceeded.

  8. Judge Neilson is over 70 & Moore will be before the end of his term. Neither man may be elected to the bench again. This time they are motivated by something other than re-election as a judge. Moore ran for Governor in 2006 and was asked to run for President on the Constitution Party ticket or perhaps they are jockeying for position in a future White House or Gubernatorial administration.

  9. laserDliquidator says:

    Each day that Roger Shuler is held incarcerated by tyranny, cronyism & corruption; is a day too many that places mounting badges of honor upon a true American warrior.

  10. tpmco says:

    Going on offense–absolutely a profound statement on its face. And walking the talk to boot. I hope Shuler kicks ass.

    The author’s contention that Shuler faces an uphill battle in a non-working and corrupt system borders on understatement. Few of you will ever understand this until it happens to you. Just try to find a lawyer who will go after a case of law enforcement misconduct unless there is at least one dead body.

  11. Drum says:

    It’s not a good idea to publicly accuse someone of crimes or improprieties if you can not prove the charges with indisputable evidence, as legal, financial, and vocational repercussions may result. Even if you’re doing it for the ostensibly well-intentioned purpose of getting the evil “other” party out of office. And especially when the dubiously accused individuals are financially and politically well-endowed.

  12. vicki b says:

    By not appearing in Court, his argument was seriously compromised…Was he jailed for not appearing in Court (legal) or refusing to comply with a pre-trial injunction that cleary was not legal?

    • Steve Lane says:

      He was jailed for contempt. Considering the actions of the court and police “contempt” is a fully understandable response on Rogers part. Unfortunately all judges whatever the state of their ethics dislike any person in the court acting with apparent contempt for the declarations of the court. But of course some judges love it. It enables them to exercise draconian power over a defendant. For the judge contempt is whatever he interprets it to be. Neilson can keep Roger in jail indefinitely until he considers the contempt purged. It would be difficult to have another judge overrule it. Even more so if you are acting “Pro se” from a prison cell as Roger is. Courts are supposed to be places where laws are interpreted and enforced but the sad reality is for some judges they are personal playpens.

    • laserDliquidator says:

      What many are failing to comprehend – is that the tyrant in this case was a “Retired” justice who simply walked into the court building – with NO legal authority; and commanded that Roger Shuler stop blogging (the truth), that he Shut his Mouth – and he would be held accountable for what others are doing.

      That tyranny, cronyism and corruption is not what is amazing – as it has become common place.

      What is mind-boggling; are the babbling, banters, obfuscating that Roger Shuler is to blame in any way whatsoever.

      When is enough – ENOUGH ALREADY?

  13. Steve Lane says:

    I think Roger should comply with the injunction even though it is illegal then when he is out he will be better placed to launch a counter strike. Only another judge can countermand the order and declare it unlawful. “Judge” Claud Neilson could care less how long Roger is in jail for. He is obtuse and bought and paid for by the Rileys. Even though there is little doubt that right is on Shulers side as he well knows corruption gives not a damn about right. Only power. His family needs him at home.

  14. Charlie Primero says:

    Good write-up on an interesting story.

    Thanks Mr. Krajicek.