Alabama blogger Roger Shuler was released from a Shelby County, Ala.
jail on March 26, more than five months after he was imprisoned on
contempt charges for refusing to comply with a court order to take
down allegedly defamatory articles.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued in an October
letter that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint. Shuler
had written a series of posts on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, claiming
that Robert Riley, Jr., son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley and
potential candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House of
Representatives seat, had an affair with and impregnated lobbyist
Shuler was released from jail after his wife, Carol, removed most of
the articles about Riley and Duke from the blog, and from You Tube and
Twitter accounts, according toAlabama news outlets.
Roger Shuler said that he and his wife took down the material after
all this time because he realized that complying with the court was
necessary for his own security.
“I saw no other way to get out of jail. After five months in a very
difficult environment … I felt my physical well-being was at stake,”
Shuler said. “I had hoped to get outside legal representation that
could get my release on lawful grounds. But that was very slow in
developing, so I just had to make a move for what I considered to be
my own survival.”
The New York Times reported in January that Shuler was “unwilling to
hire a lawyer” and that he displayed “self-defeating” behavior at
Shuler said that he plans to seek legal remedy for the time he spent
in jail, and to challenge the constitutionality of the original
contempt of court charge.
“I am looking at possible legal remedies,” Shuler said. “I’m not sure
yet what form those might take, but I think it is essential to explore
In July 2013, Riley filed a lawsuit against Roger and Carol Shuler,
alleging that they had posted false and defamatory stories and seeking
to prevent further articles from being published. Duke also filed suit
against the Shulers.
The court issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary
injunction in October 2013, which ordered that previously posted
defamatory stories be removed from the blog. It also banned the
Shulers from posting further defamatory statements about Riley and
However, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in its
letter, argued that the process by which the court issued the
take-down order was problematic.
“It appears that there was no full adjudication on the merits or
default judgment ever issued against the Shulers on the defamation
claim,” the letter states. “As such, the temporary restraining order
and preliminary injunctions amount to unconstitutional prior
After Legal Schnauzer continued to run articles about Riley and Duke,
the two asked the court to hold the Shulers in contempt for violating
the orders not to publish. Roger Shuler was arrested on Oct. 23, 2013,
and was also charged with resisting arrest. Carol Shuler was not
The Committee to Protect Journalists had considered Shuler the only
imprisoned journalist in the Western Hemisphere.
Shuler said he did not take down the materials sooner because he did
not have adequate information or resources to purge the contempt.
“At my Nov. 14 hearing, the only hearing I had in the case, the court
gave me no direction on how I could purge myself of contempt,” Shuler
said. “I noted that I had no computer or Web access to take down the
posts, even though I knew it was unlawful to be forced into taking
them down. The court’s response was more or less that I had to resolve
that problem myself. With that kind of response from the court I felt
caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’”
Shuler also explained that “I also was limited by that fact that Carol
and I had no experience dealing with issues related to jail and
“Neither of us ever had been close to being incarcerated before,” he
said. “We simply did the best we could with an extremely stressful,
Shuler has run Legal Schnauzer since 2007. Before that, he worked for
the Birmingham Post-Herald for more than a decade and was a university
editor for about 20 years.