Roger Shuler is listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the only news worker in the Western Hemisphere to be jailed.
It all started when a new neighbor with a noisy dog moved in next door.
The hound had a knack for barking a lot and wandering over into Roger and Carol Shuler’s Birmingham, Ala., suburban yard, with little supervision from the owner. And the neighbor’s guests had a habit of trespassing on their property, too, which wouldn’t have bothered them so much, if he and his guests had heeded their requests for privacy.
Next, the neighbor constructed a fence without carrying out a survey or going through proper city codes to make sure it didn’t infringe upon the Shuler’s property.
After many attempts to reason with the neighbor, a small problem about noise and property lines turned into a full-blown court case that went to trial. The judge, Ronald E. Jackson, well known in area, ruled in the neighbor’s favor, letting him off with just a warning.
But then the neighbor sought revenge and filed suit against the Shulers, seeking $25,000 for false arrest and malicious prosecution, according to Carol Shuler, 54, who spoke with MintPress on Wednesday from her home in Birmingham.
The Shulers were stunned. Their legal battles with this neighbor, which began in 2000, dragged on for years and depleted much of their life savings when they were forced to hire lawyers of their own, all with the neighbor continuing to live next door, making things uncomfortable in the neighborhood.
The beginning of the blog and trouble
In the end, the Shulers lost on all fronts to a legal system they allege is corrupt and unjust. Out of their frustration with Shelby County’s judicial system, which they viewed as unfair, Roger decided to start a blog in 2007 called the Legal Schnauzer.
“The blog began as a thing that we wanted to do to tell people, ‘Hey, this is what can happen to you,’” Carol said. “We were enduring all kinds of harassment, too, around town if we went out and tried to take a walk.”
Disgruntled, Roger, 57, began taking on judges throughout the state, along with other prominent political and public figures. It made him a target and eventually it interfered with his job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was an editor and writer in the magazine department. Eventually, Roger lost that job. Before UAB, Roger worked for 11 years as a sports reporter for the now defunct Birmingham Post-Herald.
A call to UAB to ascertain the reason for Roger’s dismissal was not returned on Wednesday.
Since the trouble began in 2000, Carol said neighbors became divided on Roger’s legal stances and extracurricular work — many of whom had been long-time friends or acquaintances with the Shulers. Many people viewed the Shulers, a mild-mannered couple living in an upscale neighborhood, as rabble rousers. In a widely Republican community where religion and politics go hand in hand, along with football, going against the grain wasn’t — and isn’t — a popular thing.
Eventually, they were publicly heckled by people passing in cars as they went for walks, or even at the grocery store. Later, their house was egged and paintballed, with windows being broken, and other acts of vandalism were carried out. They were also threatened.
But Roger didn’t budge.
The post that landed Roger in jail and fostered a Republican conspiracy
From 2007 to last year, Roger’s posts on Legal Schnauzer grew increasingly confrontational. By 2013, he thought he had a real scoop — one that remains unproven. But he went with the information he had and posted a story saying that local lawyer Robert Riley Jr. — a son of a former two-time Republican governor — had fathered an illegitimate child in an extramarital affair with a low-level state lobbyist named Liberty Duke.
According to Roger’s post on July 2, “Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former GOP governor Bob Riley (2002-2010) had an affair with Liberty Duke, a lobbyist based in Clanton, Alabama. When Ms. Duke became pregnant, Republican insiders paid her to have an abortion and stay quiet on the subject, multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer. Total payments reportedly were in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.”
Neither Riley nor Duke were pleased, apparently, because they sharpened their legal teeth. A call placed to Riley on Wednesday was not immediately returned.
Here’s where things get sticky: Roger wasn’t naming his sources in the blog posts.
One Sunday in September while going to the library to use the Internet because the Shulers couldn’t afford Internet service at their house anymore, a policeman pulled the couple over, saying they had rolled through a stop sign.
But according to Carol, “When the policeman came back after looking at Roger’s license and the car’s insurance document, he said, ‘Mr. Shuler, you’ve been served.’”
Carol alleges the local police were enlisted to entrap the couple into a moving violation stop in order to serve them with two different defamation lawsuits on the same day from Riley and Duke. According to legal documents filed in court, Roger threw the documents the officer served him out the window of his car, aggravating the situation.
“You can’t stop someone for a traffic stop to serve them papers — it’s not legal,” Carol said.
What’s more, the hearing on both suits was scheduled for the very next day. They tried to file a “motion to quash service” on the serving of the lawsuits, but the judge denied them that right.
“It’s all been predicated on this issue of prior restraint, which is very seldom used, and when it is used, only under specific circumstances, not for allegations of an extramarital affair,” she said of the legal clause, which is defined, overall, as the judicial suppression of material that would be published or broadcast on the grounds that it is libelous or harmful. Under U.S. law, the First Amendment severely limits the ability of the government to do this.
“But they are using it as grounds for this whole thing,” she said.
A few weeks later, Roger was ordered to take down the posts relating to the defamation of Riley and Duke after policemen, waiting at Roger’s house, arrested him when he pulled into his garage, claiming he was resisting the arrest, saying they had a warrant for his arrest on the defamation situation, “but they never produced the warrants,” Carol said.
Shuler represented himself in court and refused to acknowledge the judge’s jurisdiction in the matter. The judge ruled Shuler was barred from writing and publishing anything else about Riley’s alleged affair and told Roger to take down the posts and pay Riley and Duke $34,000 to cover legal fees.
Roger refused to take the post down (however, he was in jail, claiming he couldn’t do it from detention), so Judge Claude Neilson put Shuler in jail on Oct. 23 for contempt, where he has remained on indefinite detention, the only news worker in the Western Hemisphere to be jailed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
On Tuesday Roger appeared before Judge Jackson — the judge who favored the neighbor with the dog — who “convicted him of resisting arrest in a trial where the prosecution failed to produce any evidence of an arrest warrant,” Carol said.
However, Jackson suspended the 90-day sentence “for a period of 24 months” under the guise of supervised probation, according to the judge’s judicial assistant, Linda Hutson, who spoke to MintPress on Wednesday.
When is Shuler going to be released? Good question.
A call placed to the Shelby County Sheriff’s office on Wednesday drew a limited response.
“There’s no comment to be made at this time, other than he’s being held here by the order of the judge,” Shelby County Sheriff Public Information Officer Ken Burchfield told MintPress. “There’s really nothing for us to tell other than what I’ve said to you.”
Carol said her husband plans to take legal action based on their “constitutional rights being violated” when he is released.
On whether the Shulers would stay in Birmingham, Carol scoffed.
“We’re just regular people,” she said. “It’s not easy to move. And what good does that do? We’d have to sell our house — that’s not easy, especially in this economy. We never had any kind of legal dealings or encounters before the neighbor moved in. To say it’s been a nightmare — for the last 13 years — is an understatement.”
She said her husband is holding up well in jail and remains “committed.”