When John Caylor turned himself over to Daphne Police last week he apparently became the first person in the state arrested for a new law that appears to fly directly in the face of past U.S. Supreme Court rulings against prior restraint.
Prior restraint, or pre-censorship by the government of publication of information, has long been held to be unconstitutional in the United States, except in matters of national security, especially during wartime. But in 2014, Alabama passed and signed into law a bill making it a crime to publish the contents of expunged criminal records. The law, pushed by then-Sen. Roger Bedford, was aimed at easing the ability of Alabamians to have records of nonviolent convictions or charges expunged, or literally wiped from the legal record.
In attempting to do this, though, Bedford’s law also included a criminal penalty for publishing expunged records, making it a Class B misdemeanor. So now in Alabama the publication of factually accurate information can lead to arrest, even though it has no bearing on national security.
Further complicating this poorly written law is the fact that it also requires government officials who are asked about expunged records to lie. It dictates that if asked about an expunged record, officials are to say it does not exist, even though the records do exist and are being held by the state in a central location.
Caylor’s situation — which reporter Eric Mann has written about at length in this issue on page 10 — proves to be quite ironic when compared to the many bloggers across the state who routinely publish provably false information but face almost no ramifications because they are protected by the First Amendment and have no appreciable wealth that would make suing for libel worthwhile.
As it stands now under Alabama law, if a man was arrested and charged with drug trafficking several years ago and managed to get the record of that arrest expunged, then was subsequently arrested and charged with being the biggest drug kingpin in the state, it would be illegal for newspapers to publish information and documents about his previous arrest.
Unfortunately Bedford’s law flew under the radar enough that it was not opposed by state media outlets or even the Alabama Press Association. APA has said its main concern was whether newspapers would have to take down existing stories, but the real threat still seems to be the state criminalizing what we might publish.
In 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Near v. Minnesota, squashed exactly this type of prior restraint aimed at stopping a newspaper that published exposés about government officials involved in wrongdoing. I can’t imagine Alabama’s law possibly being able to stand up to legal challenge. Of course there are always members of legislatures across the country who would love to legislate what is OK to talk about, so this type of law has been pushed elsewhere.
The reality is there’s not much reason for publishing expunged records unless the person whose record was expunged becomes involved in something else that makes it pertinent, or the record being expunged falls outside the bounds of what is normally sealed.
In that regard, criminalizing publication of these types of records only opens the door to censorship and isn’t really saving anyone from poor treatment in the press.
Schnauzer sues everyone
The never-ending saga of the blogger known as “The Legal Schnauzer” took another turn this past week when the Schnauzer, aka Roger Shuler, and his wife filed a 13-count lawsuit against 22 individuals and companies, including Federal Judge Bill Pryor and Google.
The suit, filed March 26 in the U.S. District Court of Northern Alabama, centers around Shuler’s 2013 arrest stemming from a defamation suit filed by lobbyist Liberty Duke and ex-Governor Bob Riley’s son Rob Riley. Shuler had written stories alleging an extramarital affair between the two.
Shuler ended up spending five months in jail on charges of contempt of court and resisting arrest because of the suit and his refusal to remove materials the judge in the case had determined to be defamatory to Riley and Duke.
The Shulers’ lawsuit claims, among other things, that members of the police and judiciary conspired against them, that Riley and Duke sought unlawful preliminary injunctions and contempt charges against Roger Shuler, and that Google ran ads for a website defaming Shuler without checking the veracity of what was stated in the ads.
All in all, the Shulers have alleged 13 counts against the defendants, including violation of First Amendment, violation of Fourth Amendment, violation of the 14th Amendment, false arrest, false imprisonment, defamation, assault and battery, civil conspiracy and invasion of privacy.
The suit asks for a permanent injunction against “the defendants, their agents, successors, employees, attorneys, and those acting in concert with the defendants” from “continuing to violate the Shulers’ constitutional rights.” The Shulers are also asking for compensatory and punitive damages, although no monetary figures were offered.
The Shulers currently live in Springfield, Missouri, but formerly lived in Shelby County. Since leaving the state, they have also run into trouble with Missouri authorities, including an incident in which Mrs. Shuler’s arm was broken during a run-in with police.
No word yet on when or if the case will be heard.
Geboy joins WKRG
WKRG’s First Alert Storm Team officially has a fourth member now as Thomas Geboy joined the CBS affiliate recently.
Geboy will be handling weekend evening duties.
A native of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Geboy was previously the afternoon meteorologist for WTVY/WRGX in Dothan. He is a graduate of Mississippi State and holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast meteorology.
Lagniappe at 30,000
Lagniappe’s 20 percent circulation increase was officially completed two weeks ago, moving distribution from 25,000 per week to 30,000 per week.
This move was necessitated by the scarcity of papers at most distribution points, as well as a desire to better serve a larger part of the metro area. Much of the distribution increase has been focused on Baldwin County and areas to the south, west and north of the city of Mobile.
In other distribution news, longtime Lagniappe delivery person Ross Pritchard has taken over as distribution manager.