(Article changed on November 16, 2013 at 16:00)
Cross-posted at www.justice-integrity.org
Alabama authorities last week paraded in shackles the liberal pundit Roger Shuler into a secret court. There he was denounced for the scattered news coverage that reported about his jailing for contempt of court in a libel case.
The court forced defendant Roger Shuler, 56, to listen to the diatribe and argue his defense while handcuffed and shackled at his ankles and waist, according to an account by his wife.
Shuler is shown in his mug shot, with his face puffy after what he called his beating and MACE attack by Shelby County deputies during his arrest Oct. 23 in the garage of his Birmingham home.
The defamation proceeding by the politically prominent Alabama lawyer Robert Riley Jr. and lobbyist Liberty Duke appears to violate national and state precedents regarding the First Amendment and due process, as noted by several civil rights and journalism organizations. Al.com, a consortium of major Alabama newspapers, said Shuler's treatment seems illegal regardless of the specifics of his reporting.
In recent columns, Shuler alleged that Riley, son of two-term GOP former Gov. Bob Riley (2003-2011), had an affair with Duke. She and the younger Riley denied the claim in statements attached to their suit.
Circuit Judge Claud (sic) Neilson then declared without hearing from Shuler that the stories were false even though public figures must meet a tough standard of proof.
The judge, brought out from retirement in Demopolis by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, then ordered arrest of Shuler and his wife Carol for contempt of court. "Prior restraint" of publication is almost never legally valid according to such precedents as the Supreme Court's 1971 Pentagon Papers case.
In this week's hearing on Nov. 14, the judge denounced Shuler and threatened to keep him in jail indefinitely for not removing the columns about Riley and Duke. Shuler noted that has no way to spike his offending articles because he remains jailed and his wife, Carol, does not know how to remove the material.
"That's your problem," Neilson told Shuler, according to Carol Shuler.
Cowering at home in fear of arrest if she leaves, Carol Shuler based her account on phone calls from her husband in the Shelby County jail and from a conversation with a friend who was able to penetrate court security to attend the hearing.
Carol Shuler told me via a phone interview Nov. 15 that court personnel prevented several other family friends from attending the sealed proceeding.
The judge reputedly threatened to arrest Carol Shuler for maintaining Shuler's website. Arrest would cut off much of their access to the outside world. They say they have neither a lawyer nor funds to hire one.
In potentially related news, two of my longtime sources in Alabama -- both female -- have told me they have never felt more physically afraid. Each shared evidence of prowlers. One unknown person reportedly caused serious damage that the victim fears to report.