Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I am the only American journalist in the 2000s to be jailed in a civil case that had no criminal implications

Judith Miller, former reporter for The New York Times
It has been widely reported that I was the only journalist to be incarcerated in the United States (in fact, in the western hemisphere) in 2013. Our research, however, indicates the jailing of journalists in the U.S. is not as rare as you might think--at least when it involves criminal court cases. But the jailing of journalists connected to a civil matter--as was the situation with me--is extraordinarily rare.

The jailing of a journalist in circumstances such as mine--involving a preliminary injunction in a case of alleged defamation that was never proven at trial--is so rare that . . . well, we will address that in an upcoming post.

To put it another way, Alabama Republican Rob Riley (the son of former governor Bob Riley) apparently is the only U.S. litigant in this century to seek incarceration of an opposing party for "violation" of an unlawful preliminary injunction, in a case of "defamation" that never was proven at trial.

In fact, there was no trial in my case. My only appearance in court on the matter, on November 14, 2013, was billed as a hearing. (See embedded document at end of this post.) There had been no discovery in the case, almost no relevant testimony, little or no cross-examination, little or no evidence entered, no jury seated--in short the hearing was hardly even a legitimate hearing, and it certainly was not a trial.

This raises all kinds of troubling questions about Claud Neilson, the judge who sent me to jail for five months in Shelby County, Alabama, and the Alabama Supreme Court (led by Ten Commandments justice Roy Moore), who appointed the retired Neilson to my case. We will examine those questions later, but for now, let's put the broader issue into perspective.

For example, how many journalists have been incarcerated in the United States in the 2000s? The answer is six, with yours truly being the most recent. Here is a brief summary of each such case in this century: (Sources: Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], Wikipedia, The New York Times, CNN, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press [RCFP].)

* Timothy Crews (2000)--Editor and publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in California, Crews spent five days in jail for refusing to reveal his source in a story about the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer.

* Vanessa Leggett (2001)--A free-lance writer in Houston, Texas, Leggett was jailed without bond for refusing to turn over research for a book she was writing about the 1997 murder of Houston socialite Doris Angleton. Leggett was in jail from July 20, 2001, to January 4, 2002.

* Jim Taricani (2004)--A television reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, Taricani, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for refusing to reveal who leaked him a Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance tape. A federal judge ordered Taricani, who has a heart condition, not to leave his home for any reason except medical treatment. The judge also barred him from using the Internet and from making any public statements. The tape, showing a municipal official, Frank E. Corrente, accepting a bribe from an FBI undercover agent, was sealed under court order at the time. Corrente and Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr., the long-serving Providence mayor, were later convicted of corruption.

* Judith Miller (2005)--A New York Times reporter, Miller was jailed for refusing to name her sources in reporting on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Miller was incarcerated from July to September 2005.

* Joshua Wolf (2006)--A free-lance blogger and videographer in San Francisco, Wolf was jailed for refusing to turn over a videotape of a 2005 protest. Wolf taped clashes between demonstrators and San Francisco police during a June 2005 protest by anarchists against a Group of Eight economic conference. Wolf sold footage of the protest to San Francisco television stations and posted it on his Web site. Investigators wanted Wolf's testimony and portions of his videotape that were not broadcast, as part of a probe into possible criminal activity, including an alleged attempt by protesters to burn a police vehicle. Wolf was in prison from August 2006 to April 2007.

* Roger Shuler (2013)--A veteran journalist with more than 30 years of professional experience, Shuler started the progressive blog Legal Schnauzer in 2007 from his home in Shelby County, Alabama. Sheriff's deputies arrested (and maced) him in the garage of his home after Alabama Republican Rob Riley filed a defamation lawsuit, seeking both a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction. A long line of U.S. Supreme Court and state high-court cases, dating back more than 200 years, states that TROs and preliminary injunctions constitute unlawful prior restraints under the First Amendment. But Riley, who has a law degree from Yale, has made multiple public statements claiming there is legal precedent for his actions and Judge Claud Neilson had "leeway" under the law to order Shuler's incarceration. Both statements are false, and even right-wing legal analysts (such as Ken White, of the Popehat blog) have blasted both Neilson and Riley's lawyer (Jay Murrill, from Riley's own firm) for their actions and statements in the case. Shuler was in the Shelby County Jail from October 23, 2013, to March 26, 2014.

As you can see, my case does not fit with the others. The first five cases all involve the possible disclosure of confidential sources or information in criminal matters, and under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from the early 1970s, all of those incarcerations probably were legal. We will take a look at the relevant law in those cases next.

Meanwhile, here is the No. 1 reason my case is different from the other cases in this century: It was flagrantly illegal. Contrary to Rob Riley's public claims, no legal precedent supports my incarceration. In fact, a first-year law student probably could have seen that Riley's defamation complaint sought remedies that are prohibited by law--meaning I was the victim of a false arrest and wrongful imprisonment.

Makes you wonder what Riley, a Yale law grad, was thinking. Makes you wonder if the whole charade, which cost me my freedom for five months, was planned with an ulterior motive in mind.


Anonymous said...

Seems clear to me that you ticked off a powerful person--big time.

The question is, who was it?

Anonymous said...


Not much difference between the two these days.

Anonymous said...

Your case should wind up in the history books. Never thought I would hear of such a thing happening in this country.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't have ignored a court order, Mr. Schnauzer. Then you wouldn't have gone to jail.

legalschnauzer said...

Contrary to your statement, and to those at various Web sites, I didn't ignore a court order. I responded by filing a motion to quash service because we received the complaint via an unlawful traffic stop, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. My motion put the burden on the plaintiffs to prove service had been properly conducted. I've yet to see any document that shows the plaintiffs met their burden. I was arrested before ever receiving a ruling on the motion to quash. More than likely, I was thrown in jail by a court that had no jurisdiction over me--but I did not ignore the court order, and the record shows that. Of course, plaintiffs had the case sealed at the time, so no one could see the record.

Anonymous said...

You're a brave man Mr. Shuler. Keep standing on what you know is right, and in the end, you will win.

e.a.f. said...

so much for freedom of the press, etc. welcome to the new America, the one which protects corporate interests and the financial elite.

What is the difference between Putin's treatment of the Russian press who disagrees with him and the American court system when it comes to freedom of the press? Not much! and that is a very sad comment. it might be better if America cleaned up its own undemocratic mess before trying to "save' other countries from "dictatorships".

Anonymous said...

You should sue them.