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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The words of NY Times reporter Campbell Robertson contradict his reporting about my incarceration

Campbell Robertson
Campbell Robertson, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote an article about my unlawful incarceration that claimed I was unwilling to hire a lawyer to fight the case. Robertson also claimed I was "no stranger to defamation lawsuits"--and a caption on his story followed suit by stating that my reporting on this blog had "prompted many defamation lawsuits."

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)


Anonymous said...

Why are there so many jerks now, we need more good people. And what kind of reporter is this, does he also serve as a "NUES" contributor on FAUX NUES?

Anonymous said...

The guy admits that pretty much all he did during his hour of interview time with you was ask why you didn't have an attorney, over and over. He couldn't think of anything else to ask? Geez. Hell, even I would have asked, "Hey, how's jail food?"

legalschnauzer said...

I must say that when I got done talking with Robertson, my first thought was, "Why did I waste one hour (four 15-minute segments) of my jail-phone time on that guy?"It was obvious he either had no clue about the issues at stake, or he purposely ignored them.

Anonymous said...

You're wife spoke to the guy, too, didn't she?

legalschnauzer said...

Oh, yes, she spoke with him for roughly three hours at our home. He used hardly any of the information she provided, but he managed to use all sorts of quotes from California lawyer Ken White--who is knowledgeable about First Amendment law, but took all sorts of unwarranted personal shots at me, someone he's never met or talked to--and he apparently never talked to anyone else about me, in an effort to understand who I really am and what my wife and I have been through. Oh, and White just happens to represent or support a group of right-wing bloggers, headed by Ali Akbar, who have trashed me repeatedly over a case they clearly know nothing about and who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me.

Anonymous said...

For those who haven't clicked on the link to NYT story, here is how the caption under Mr. Shuler's photo reads:

"Posts on Roger Shuler’s blog, Legal Schnauzer, have prompted many defamation suits. His refusal to cooperate in one recent case has led to his being jailed since October and has drawn international attention." Credit Shelby County Jail

If that information isn't true, don't you have a defamation case against them? If somebody wrote that about me, and court records show it isn't true, I certainly would feel like my reputation had been damaged.

legalschnauzer said...

@3:12--There is no question that, under the law, I have a solid defamation claim against the NY Times. In fact, both parts of that caption are false. My blog has not prompted "many" defamation suits, and I did not "refuse to cooperate" in the Riley case. All you have to do is check the court file, which was open by the time Robertson came along, to see that I filed a motion to quash service and was waiting on a decision on that at the time I was arrested. That "refuse to cooperate" garbage came straight from Rob Riley, who we've shown is a liar of world-class proportions. So yes, you are absolutely right that I have a claim. Finding a lawyer with the "cojones" to take on such a case against a well-known defendant is a different story.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the New York Times have editors or fact-checkers who go over a story before it's printed?

legalschnauzer said...

That's a great question, @4:08, and the answer is that many media outlets have cut back on copy editing positions in the current environment--and it shows. You can pick up a copy of a major magazine, such as "Time" or "Sports Illustrated," and see errors now that you almost never used to see. And I'm talking about typos, misspelled words, missing or repeated words, etc. I see no sign that any editor checked the Robertson story before it was sent to press. If one did, he or she did not edit with a critical eye because the story is filled with red flags that should have raised an eyebrow for any competent copy editor.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I've got this straight . . . Robertson admits you told him that you were open to hiring a lawyer under the right circumstances. But then he wrote that you were "unwilling" to hire a lawyer.

Call me dense, but seems to me Robertson admitted to Andrew Kreig that he screwed up the story. Does the New York Times not have any requirements for its reporters--like the ability to listen and get things down somewhat accurately on paper? Maybe they just drag people in off the streets these days.

Chuckles said...

Here's how my interview with you would have gone:

"Is it true what they say that you have to be careful about bending over to pick up a bar of soap in a jailhouse shower?"

Anonymous said...

Someone should report Campbell Robertson, NY Times journalist to the Dart Center.

I don't believe journalist Campbell Robertson will ever have to worry about being defamed, because his shoddy reporting proves he will never reach the heights of being considered a public figure worthy of public commentary. Since he doesn't incorporate ethics in his work, eventually he will have to move to other areas if he plans to continue with his writing career. Perhaps he should consider moving to the opinionated, editorial areas of journalism since he lacks the ability to present facts objectively in investigative pieces.

Corporate-paid-journalists and bloggers will probably never have a happy co-existence, but as writers, and gifted individuals who share the capacity to commit time, talent and true concern for issues, there should remain a healthy, professional respect among them. It's too bad Campbell Robertson lacked character in this area as well as the others.