An Alabama judge imposed a 90-day sentence this week on corruption-fighting Alabama blogger Roger Shuler. Authorities have jailed Shuler indefinitely for alleging a sex scandal involving a prominent attorney.
At right, Shuler, now 57, was puffy-faced in his mug shot following his arrest Oct. 23 in his garage in a suburb of Birmingham.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Jan. 12 that Shuler’s jailing in a libel case threatens press freedom. The Times headlined the story, Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions. Also, in a separate matter, a California federal appeals court overturned a $2 million libel verdict against a blogger on the grounds that, Blogger gets same speech protections as traditional press: U.S. court.
The Times story sought so hard to be balanced that it 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, I hear some Alabamans saying they fear doing business in a state operating under one-party rule with few watchdogs or checks and balances. Many more would probably fear their environment if they knew the implications of a court system aggressively deployed by its political leaders to operate in a lawless manner.
I have researched relevant big picture issues for five years. Victims include not just watchdogs at the Shuler level, but major business CEOs and other executives of both parties who stand in the way of the political machine.
Alabama is like the old days when legitimate businesses sometimes served as a front for organized crime, and used both law enforcement and violence to take what they want. That occurred not just in big cities run by machines and the mob. Another such locale was Alabama, the site of what Hollywood portrayed six decades ago as “Sin City” (Phenix City in real life). But after a nasty murder of a reformer by corrupt local law enforcement, good government groups and leaders cleaned up the city in the mid-1950s.
More recently, Karl Rove and his allies have used Alabama and Texas as laboratories for imposition of their style of governance across the United States. Thus, my column today is not about libel, sex scandal, or even politics. This story is ultimately about government-influenced financial deals and other money-making schemes of vast proportion and impacts on the public.
Let’s start with the basics:
In a quickie trial Jan. 14, Shelby County District Judge Ronald Jackson found Shuler guilty of resisting arrest Oct. 23 and ruled that force by Shelby Deputy Sheriff Chris Blevins was justified under the circumstances.
Three other deputies helped Blevins in carting Shuler off to jail. Shuler has remained jailed on a contempt of court charge. No bail is permitted.
In court, Shuler unsuccessfully argued for a delay to prepare a defense. He tried also to prove that authorities had no warrant and still cannot produce one. Additionally, he denied that he posed a threat or reached into his pocket as Blevins alleged to justify his violent tactics in performing the arrest.
In view of the apathy of much of the media regarding Shuler’s dire circumstances, New York Times coverage in the Sunday edition of the nation’s most influential newspaper was a net positive for Shuler and other advocates of the First Amendment.
Bu neither Robertson, a native of a nearby Alabama community just south of the courthouse, nor his selected experts featured in the article conveyed to the public the appalling danger of a court system operating so lawlessly.
Under de facto direction from the state’s highest court, the system is on its way to destroying a journalist without a real trial or other commonly expected due process safeguards.
These abuses are “in your face” insults to the American public — especially to the timid journalistic and legal establishment represented by the Times, other media and their professional organizations.
Journalism groups frequently focus on First Amendment rhetoric but fail to protest real-life First Amendment abuses. The groups typically award prizes for far less ambitious stories than Shuler attempts. They organize conferences that optimize revenue by honoring celebrities from journalism and government — and big-ticket corporate sponsors who want to bask in the reflected glory of an idealized industry.
As demonstrated repeatedly in real-life Alabama, bad actors within the court system are trying to ignore or pervert the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The response of the New York Times was, in effect, to split the difference between the perpetrators and the scapegoat victim, Shuler, by investigating him critically but not others.
Victims include the Alabama public and the rest of America. Who is standing up for them aside from Roger Shuler?
One of the few is Alan Colmes, who invited me to return to his show Jan. 17 at the start of his show nationally syndicated on Fox Talk Radio. After Shuler’s arrest in October, Colmes promptly took a national leadership role on his show and his blogsite, Liberaland, in the showcasing the injustice. I appeared Nov. 1 following my own commentary, which included one Justice Integrity Project column about the arrest that received than 40,000 hits.