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Muckraking Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Take Down Blog Posts

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 15, 2013 4:32 PM

Roger Shuler, the man behind the Legal Schnauzer blog which broke the rumors about Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor's alleged gay porn past, has been sitting in a jail cell for the past few weeks for violating a court order, one which many are arguing is an unconstitutional restraint on speech.

Shuler wrote a series of posts about an alleged affair between a local Republican political figure Robert Riley Jr. (the son of former two-term Alabama Gov. Bob Riley) and a lobbyist, Liberty Duke. The pair brought a libel suit against Shuler, and a local court ordered him to remove the offending posts from his website. He refused, and is now in jail on contempt charges.

The Official Word

An attorney with Riley's firm told Birmingham's WIAT-TV that Shuler refused to show up for court hearings on the matter and that the court had found Shuler's posts to be false before ordering their removal. When he refused to comply, he was found in contempt of court and arrested.

Questions Remain

The ACLU and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press have expressed concern that the sealing of the case, as well as the order of removal, are unconstitutional.

Shuler's wife told WIAT-TV that he had not received his day in court yet, and that no final judgment had been made on the accuracy of Shuler's reports. If true, the prior restraint of Shuler's speech is especially worrisome.

Other questions arise from Shuler's arrest. According to Al Jazeera America, Shuler claims that police arrived on October 23 with no warrant or legal documents in hand, and requested that he step outside of his garage. When he refused and tried to go inside his house, he was beaten, sprayed with Mace, and arrested. He has also been charged with resisting arrest.

The ACLU has filed a motion to appear as amicus curiae. In their amicus memorandum, the organization takes issue with the use of a preliminary injunction, as well as the sealing of the court files, noting that the injunction is widely available on the Internet.

Notable law blog Popehat calls Shuler "creepy and crazy," and a "vexatious litigant," but argues against the use of a preliminary injunction, as there is nothing "exceptional" (such as a national security matter) to this case.

Really though, that is the point, isn't it? Even if you think Shuler is ridiculous for writing about semi-notable Republicans and their alleged sexual exploits, or conservative jurists allegedly posing nude while in college, it's free speech folks. Prior restraint is the rarest of remedies -- no troops will die, nor will wars be started, over scurrilous gossip.

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