I have shown on this blog that both Times' claims are false. (See here and here.) But now we've learned that Robertson's own words contradict his claims about my alleged unwillingness to hire a lawyer. And the public record, which Robertson apparently did not bother to check, shows that the newspaper's claims regarding defamation lawsuits are false.
All of this raises serious questions about the Times' competence, its motivations--or both--in reporting on a First Amendment case that represents a first in American history. Did the Times convey to its readers the grotesque nature of constitutional violations in my case? No, it did not, and that is not just my opinion. It comes also from Andrew Kreig, a lawyer/journalist who serves as director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Justice-Integrity Project. Kreig minces no words in showing how the Times "flubs" its reporting on my case; he also gives Robertson an opportunity to explain his approach to the article--and the reporter winds up showing that he can't keep his story straight.
How shallow was the Times' coverage? Kreig sums it up:
The Times story underplayed the court system's outrageous confiscation of Shuler's rights -- and the damage to the public. The kangaroo court proceedings set back the state's image more than 50 years to the time of the segregationist "Jim Crow" era when libel and contempt of court proceedings were used to crush the civil rights movement.
These days, the Shuler case illustrates how a court system can destroy targeted individuals and businesses by selectively ignoring basic due process protections typically expected in the legal system.
I spoke with two Alabama lawyers--David Gespass and Austin Burdick--while I was in jail, so that seems to make it fairly obvious that I was open to having legal representation. If I wasn't open to representation, I would not have spoken with Gespass and Burdick. (For the record, Gespass never presented a clear plan for gaining my release under the law and seeking damages for violations of my constitutional rights; Burdick stated that he likely would need to bill an amount that I could not afford. He also said he probably would write off the amount as pro bono representation, but I was concerned about winding up with a hefty bill--again, with no plan for seeking damages on my behalf, from which I could pay his fees.)
Robertson apparently knew I had spoken to multiple lawyers, but he still wrote the following:
So while the furor has all but dissipated, Mr. Shuler remains in jail, unwilling to take down his posts but also unwilling to hire a lawyer and contest his incarceration in the state courts.
Robertson and I spoke for an hour--in four 15-minute increments while I was in jail--and I would estimate that about 75 percent or more of the conversation was on the "hiring a lawyer" issue. Of all the profound issues present in my case, this seemed to be the only one that held any interest for Robertson.
Did I state that I had a hard time trusting lawyers, given my experiences with them in the past? (See here, here, and here.) Yes. Did I state at various times in the different interviews that I didn't want to hire a lawyer--or I was reluctant to hire a lawyer--because of those trust issues? Yes.
But did I say I was unwilling to hire a lawyer or that I would not even consider it? The answer is no. In a February 2014 post here, I summed up what I ultimately told Robertson:
I had specifically told Campbell Robertson that we are open to being represented by the right lawyer with the right strategy under the right circumstances. I felt I made that very clear, but there must have been some misunderstanding because The New York Times incorrectly reported that I was refusing to hire a lawyer. That's not true and I just want to make sure that's clear."
Does that sound like someone who is "unwilling to hire a lawyer"? No, it does not. And Robertson admits, in his comment to Andrew Kreig, that I told him I was open to hiring a lawyer. Robertson's full comment can be read at the end of this post, but here is the key section:
I spoke, in 15 minute increments, to Mr. Shuler for an hour from jail. I asked him multiple times about hiring a lawyer; it was in fact my main line of questioning, having already gotten many of the other details in a long interview with his wife. He said that he did not want to hire a lawyer because he did not trust lawyers (an answer he repeated every time I asked), and that he did not want to fight this in state court, where it currently stands.
He did say he was open if someone were to offer pro bono representation if this was in federal court. He also refused state-provided counsel on his criminal charges. None of this lessens the constitutional problems of the judge''s actions. But it does lead to a complicated story.
In other words, I did say I was open to hiring a lawyer--and Campbell Robertson admits his reporting was inaccurate. Did that hurt my wife and me as we sought justice for what amounted to a state-sanctioned kidnapping? Yes, it did--and here is how Andrew Kreig sums it up:
The Times column said that Shuler does not want a lawyer. That seems to be an error harming their chances of obtaining counsel.
Shuler’s wife Carol . . . is a co-defendant in the suit who has been permitted by authorities so far to remain in their Birmingham home without arrest. But she has been too frightened to leave for the most part since except for occasional quick trips to a store.
She told me in a phone interview this week that they would very much like to have a lawyer, as they told [Robertson].
As for the federal-court issue, my arrest raised issues under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendments--constitutional matters that usually are addressed in federal courts. If I was going to seek redress for the wrongs committed against me, it seems federal court would be the proper venue. Robertson's reporting--and his questioning--hinted that my only option was to seek release in state court while ignoring any possibilities for damages in federal court, or anywhere else.
One of the lawyers I spoke with in jail seemed to have that viewpoint--and we will report on that in an upcoming post. The lawyer suggested that I should always maintain a defensive posture, never seeking to go on the offensive. Did Campbell Robertson have a similar agenda in his reporting?
It sure smells that way from here. Why would Robertson take such an approach to the story, essentially offering up a cheap hit piece on a journalist who has been abused in a way that appears to be a first in American history? We've uncovered some evidence that points to possible answers for that question, and we will look at that in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)