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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jailing the Nutty Blogger as Cyberbully

Alabama Blogger Roger Shuler
On Sundays, the NYT often supplies this blog with grist for our content mill; this Sunday's edition did not disappoint.  There it was, referenced on bottom of the front page, ranked as the 6th most read article at mid-day on the NYT's web site:  "Blogger's Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions".

Apparently, Mr. Roger Shuler, through his blog titled Legal Schnauzer, does not know when to shut-up, or to stop posting.  At least that is the opinion of the local judge who jailed him back in late October for his contempt of court arising within the context of a defamation tort lawsuit filed in Shelby County, Alabama against Shuler by the son of a former Alabama Governor.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Shuler is litigious.  When he is the plaintiff or the petitioner in a law suit, he rarely wins.  In fact, one thing at which Shuler excels is getting creamed in civil law suits; to the point where it has cost he and his wife the ownership of their private residence.

In his blog, Shuler rails -conspiracy style- against an assortment of conservative local and state politicians.  All manner of sexual and criminal escapades are alleged against the public figures in the blog, without attribution or reliable verification.

Not content with simply being  a noisome cyberbully, Shuler has filed law suits against the following persons and entities:
  • his neighbor; 
  • his former employer; 
  • the local police department; 
  • the county sheriff; 
  • the lawyer that won the case against said neighbor; 
  • judges that have ruled against him; and
  • the State Bar of Alabama, among others.
This nutty blogger is now on the short-list of imprisoned journalists maintained by the Committee to Protect Journalists; he is the only, er, "journalist" from the Western Hemisphere and shares company on the list with journalists from Iran, China and Egypt.

We here at the Law Blogger think Shuler likes the attention that his jail stint for contempt has garnered.  Through his inflammatory and defamatory posts, Shuler may have purposely set-out to be the blogosphere's poster-boy for free speech martyrdom.

By jailing the nutty blogger, the local county judge has attracted criticism from First Amendment scholars from across the nation who contend that his harsh remedy is a form of prior restraint; a content-based muzzle rather than a matter of judicial enforcement of orders and decorum.

On the other hand, Shuler blogs about the former governor's son, Robert Riley, Jr., petulantly leveling bald wholly unsupported allegations that Riley impregnated a lobbyist and paid for a secret abortion. In the blogosphere, you had better be ready to back-up such words in the inevitable defamation suit.

Here at the Law Blogger, one of our lawyers had a probate case that attracted media attention when the Wayne County Probate Judge assigned to the matter jailed one of the interested parties for contempt during live proceedings.

The party found in contempt by the probate judge had been blogging about the attorneys and the judge in the case.  While one of the interested parties, also a target of the blog, was presenting oral argument for an injunction and a contempt finding against this thrash-blogger, one of the judge's clerks was printing pages from the blog and feeding them to the judge for his review.

In this case, it sure did not aid the cyberbully's cause that her blog roundly trashed the presiding judge that was conducting the hearing.  She was sent to the courthouse lock-up for contempt until such time as she could prove to the probate judge that the offending pages had been removed from the Internet.

Now that was a judicial overreaction and a clear-cut case of prior restraint in possible violation of the declarant's First Amendment right to free speech.  As a result, the woman was featured in an above-the-fold article in the Detroit Free Press the next day, holding her cat, broad grin spread across her mug.  The article was not favorable to the judge's contempt ruling.

Perhaps justice would have been better served in the Shuler case if the local judge stuck to the merits of the defamation case and just let the nutty blogger keep paying the high-cost of his ridiculous conduct in the form of damages, fines, costs, attorney fees, liens, and all the other stinging components of adverse rulings in the civil courts.

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