Even after being kenneled for most of the early part of the year, the blogger known as “The Legal Schnauzer” is back barking.
Roger Shuler, who writes the “Schnauzer” blog, felt the law fall heavily upon him late last year after writing a series of scandalous articles about Rob Riley, son of the former governor, and Attorney General Luther Strange, to name a couple. His claims have been salacious, alleging affairs by both men, naming names of supposed lovers and even accusing Riley of misusing GOP money in order to silence his paramour and get her an abortion.
After ignoring a summons late last year to go to court, and even throwing court papers and cursing at law enforcement officials, according to published reports, Shuler landed in the slammer without bond where he stayed until late March.
His jailing caused outrage across the country and even around the globe, although Shuler’s status as a credible journalist has been greatly overstated in some arenas in my opinion. Still, he was only able to get out of jail after making changes to his website.
“I was released on March 26 and was in jail for five months,” Shuler said. He added, “The charge was civil contempt, based primarily on failure to abide by a preliminary injunction to remove certain articles from the blog. That’s where the prior restraint issue comes in. My wife, Carol, finally was able to remove those articles, and that is what led to my release. I was in jail and could not remove the articles myself, so it was a sort of ‘rock and hard place’ situation. It took us a while to figure out how to address it.”
But while Shuler’s situation certainly raises a number of eyebrows and issues concerning the First Amendment as it crosses paths with the World Wide Web, the time in jail doesn’t appear to have muzzled the Schnauzer too much.
Checking out his web site this week, it seems Rob Riley is squarely back in Shuler’s sights. A number of stories about Riley’s alleged ties to gambling influence topped the site, there are also stories about Jessica Medeiros Garrison’s sealed divorce file and others pertaining to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
Riley and former Strange campaign aide Garrison have both sued Shuler for defamation. Not much more has come to light about those two cases, but the fact he is still publishing articles about the two indicates Shuler either feels he has the truth on his side or is judgment proof because of his publicly stated lack of funds.
The case has remained of interest in the world of journalism because Circuit Court Judge Claud Neilson granted Riley an injunction that essentially had the state committing what’s called “prior restraint” by barring Shuler from writing any more about Riley. Neilson held Shuler without bond and sealed the court records. Shuler’s ban against writing about Riley appears to be done, though.
The Shuler case continues to provide questions about how freedom of speech is handled on the web. It used to be only businesses with deep pockets had the reach to spread information far and wide, thus they were more careful and concerned about getting sued for libel. But as someone like Shuler, who may be publishing stories that are partially or patently untrue, has to put little into it financially in order to be heard by a large audience, it may raise the question of how he might be kept from libeling others.
In this situation such accusations fall in a difficult area, since people like Riley and Strange are “public figures” and enjoy far less protection from libel than would a private citizen just minding his own business. In the case of public figures “actual malice” must be proven, which essentially means showing the person publishing the information knew it was false and did so with the intent to harm the subject of the stories.
The fact that Shuler had to remove articles from his website in order to get out of jail seems bizarre, especially considering no one proved whether they were true or false.
But the case is one that has the potential to be important in setting precedent in the world of libel on the web, especially since it seems Shuler isn’t about to back down from publishing scandalous articles about the same people that landed him in hot water before.