Alabama blogger Roger Shuler has been sitting in the Shelby County, Alabama Jail for five
months -- for blogging. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he is the only person in the Western Hemisphere imprisoned for something he has written.
Now Mr. Shuler isn't your ordinary blogger. He has repeatedly been involved in legal battles and sued for defamation since he started his blog in 2007. Initially the blog was an outlet for a property dispute with his neighbor. Mr. Shuler ended up on the short end of the case, and the neighbor's lawyer now owns half of Mr. Shuler's home.
Shuler continued to rant against courts, the police and a variety of public officials, including Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Example: writing that a sitting federal judge appeared in a gay pornographic magazine. Class guy, this Mr. Shuler.
He has repetitively been sued for his blog posts, often successfully. The judgments against him have taken their financial toll, to the point where he no longer can afford internet service and now posts from public computers in public libraries. But he continues undeterred.
Fast forward to an article Shuler posted claiming that the governor's son, Robert Riley Jr., got aptly named lobbyist Liberty Duke pregnant and paid for an abortion. Riley and Duke not only denied the pregnancy and abortion, they denied they had ever been alone together in the same room.
Here's were things get really interesting -- and according to many First Amendment scholars and lawyers -- a bit out of hand. State District Judge Robert Jackson issues an injunction against Shuler prohibiting him from making anymore "defamatory statements" about Mr. Riley and Ms. Duke.
First Amendment experts are unanimous that the order was unconstitutional and a violation of Mr. Shuler's First Amendment rights.
Ignoring the games Mr. Shuler played trying to avoid service of the order, Mr. Shuler continued to publish venomous posts about the pair.
The result: Judge Jackson held Shuler in contempt and ordered him jailed.
That was in October. And Mr. Shuler is still there.
Clearly Mr. Shuler is not the good guy here. He has abused his rights. He has defamed people causing them personal pain and suffering all for his own small-minded baseless vendettas. But on the other hand, he is in jail because of an unconstitutional judicial order prohibiting free speech.
It's all ugly, and shows no signs of getting resolved. And meanwhile, Mr. Shuler sits in a United States jail for what he wrote.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillburning/46446926/">Still Burning</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>