There seems to be at least one in every state. A local with a blog and an aggressive interest in state politics and muck. Publishing what the local papers wouldn’t touch. Walking the line between rumor and news. Conversant with the key issues, and familiar with the key names. Unafraid or indifferent to pissing people off.
In Alabama, Roger Shuler is one of those guys. And as a result of an ongoing fight about what he’s written on his blog, Shuler is currently in jail.
Shuler was arrested last week in his Birmingham home and is being held without bail in a Shelby County, Ala. jail for contempt of court and resisting arrest.
The charges stem from a case brought by Rob Riley, a Birmingham attorney and the son of former Gov. Bob Riley (R). Over the past 11 months, Shuler has written blog posts asserting that Riley had an affair with an Alabama lobbyist. Riley has denied the story, and tried to take Shuler to court. Shuler wouldn’t cooperate. And he continued to write about the alleged affair, violating a court order in the process.
For years, Shuler has maintained a blog called Legal Schnauzer, to which his wife, Carol Shuler, also contributes. (The blog’s tagline is: “The memory of a beloved pet inspires one couple’s fight against injustice.”) A 1978 graduate of the University of Missouri, Shuler worked as a journalist and then for years as an editor for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s publications office. He was fired from that job in 2008, and claimed his firing came as a result of his writing about high-ranking political figures in Alabama. While Shuler didn’t have proof, his firing got attention outside Alabama.
“Shuler’s problem arose not because he blogged nor because he did so from his workplace, because it’s clear he didn’t,” Scott Horton, a journalist for Harper’s Magazine and a lecturer at Columbia University Law School, told Raw Story in 2008. “His problem came from the fact that he wrote critical, well received insights targeting a number of very powerful figures in Alabama, starting with U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and prominent Republicans with which she is aligned, and including a number of major figures in the Alabama media.”
Shuler’s current tangle with Alabama’s forces-that-be began in late January. On Jan. 24, Shuler wrote, citing “sources,” that Riley had had an affair with the lobbyist between 2005 and 2007.
“The reports about an extramarital affair, and the ugly repercussions from it, raise new questions about the ethics of a political family that has claimed to be opposed to abortion rights, gambling, and other cultural issues on moral grounds,” Shuler wrote.
Shuler mentioned the alleged affair in several posts over the ensuing months. On Oct. 3, he wrote that Riley had filed a lawsuit against him.
“Riley claims our reports are false and defamatory, but he has taken a number of steps to shield the case from public view,” Shuler wrote. “The Riley lawsuit explains the swarm of Shelby County sheriff deputies that repeatedly trampled our property and pounded on our door throughout last week. It also explains the fraudulent traffic stop that Lt. Mike DeHart conducted on Sunday afternoon in order to ‘serve’ me with court papers.”
Things escalated from there. On Oct. 4, Riley asked a Shelby County court to hold the Shulers in contempt of court for violating a restraining order — the court papers served by Lt. DeHart — that directed them to “cease and desist immediately from publishing … any defamatory statement about Petitioners, including, but not limited to, any statement that Petitioners had an extramarital affair.” (Shuler appears to have represented himself in the case.) By Oct. 22, Shuler anticipated that he might wind up in jail, in a post accusing Riley of having a hand in the court orders issued in the case.
“Jay Murrill, an attorney at Riley’s law firm who is representing his boss in the case, appears to have written an order to grant a preliminary injunction and seal the public file, plus an order to hold us in contempt,” Shuler wrote. “If granted, the contempt order could subject us to incarceration.”
The arrest took place on the night of Oct. 23, in Shuler’s garage, according to an account Carol Shuler gave this week to another Alabama blogger. Carol Shuler said she was asleep in the house when the arrest occurred, but later got the story from her husband.
“And so Roger walks around, and he got to about here, and all of sudden the guy just grabs him and throws him against all these boxes, the boxes here were stacked up … and proceeded to Mace him in the face,” Carol Shuler said, leading the blogger, who was filming her, through her garage.
In his booking photo, Shuler is squinting, with one eyelid drooping noticeably lower than the other.
Since his arrest, Shuler’s case has sparked a constitutional discussion in the Alabama press. Brannon Denning, a law professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, told Al.com that the order against Shuler appeared to violate the prohibition of prior restraint. But he didn’t support Shuler violating a court order.
“If you wanted to challenge this, then the thing you do is you show up in court to challenge the validity of the injunction,” Denning said. “You don’t just violate it.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office did not return a call from TPM. Riley’s attorney, Keith Jackson, did not return multiple requests for comment from TPM. And TPM’s attempts to contact Carol Shuler were unsuccessful.