OK

You may not remember the diary from November, "Former Kossack Arrested on Bullsh*t Charges" (h/t Colorado is the Shiznit) or the earlier one from October "The Legal Schnauzer Caged" (h/t Murphoney).  They told the story of former Kossack, Roger Shuler  (AKA "The Legal Schnauzer") and his abuse at the hands of local Alabama authorities.  Well, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Andrew Krieg, an attorney with the Justice Integrity Project shares with the world a new "Letter from the Birmingham Jail."  If you care about journalistic freedom, this one is every bit as distressing as the original.

Here's the opening paragraph:

Alabama commentator Roger Shuler's condition has sharply worsened during his nearly five months of jailing, as I learned by visiting him in Birmingham March 10.

Krieg goes on to explain the general outline of the problem:

The corruption-fighting reporter said he has lost 16 pounds during his jailing without bond since Oct. 23 on two contempt of court charges. The charges stemmed from his investigative reports alleging a sex scandal involving the prominent Alabama lawyer Robert Riley Jr. and lobbyist Liberty Duke.

In the lawsuit filed last summer under seal against the Shulers, Riley and Duke denied Shuler’s reports, which were published on the Legal Schnauzer site Shuler founded in 2007 to reveal suppressed and other under-reported stories involving Deep South courts and politics. Riley, Duke and their attorneys have not responded to my requests for further comment.

My visit occurred the day after the 50th anniversary of the nation's most famous free press case in history, New York Times v. Sullivan, which Shuler’s judge appears to be violating by holding the reporter indefinitely for failing to spike his stories before trial of the Riley and Duke suits.  

My column today shows how Shuler's treatment violates fundamental press freedom and due process law arising in significant part from the 1960s civil rights struggle in Alabama and across the Deep South.

Yet the nation's journalism leaders -- especially those leading media organizations and teaching at universities -- have done virtually nothing to help Shuler either to win freedom or otherwise to preserve the national civil rights precedents being violated in his case.

This silence by groups like the Society for Professional Journalism is deafening.  Say what you will about Shuler's pugnacity, the man has been fearless in his efforts to report and expose stories from some places most of us would rather forget exist.

He was also important in keeping the Don Seigelman story in public awareness.  That is probably one of the reasons he is being abused by the local authorities now.

"I see this more as a kidnapping than a defamation case," Shuler told me from a visiting room in the jail. Let's examine why:

Shuler said the younger Riley, co-plaintiff with Duke against Shuler in the libel suits, also represents as counsel the county's jail system. Such a tight relationship between a favored litigant and law enforcement helps illustrate the concentration of political, financial and legal power that the well-connected Riley family has wielded in Alabama along with their allies, such as longtime Bush family advisor Karl Rove.

Their track record includes the notorious prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003).

Don SiegelmanSiegelman, imprisoned in Louisiana and shown at right in a file photo from better days, is scheduled to serve more than four years remaining from his trumped-up federal prosecution on corruption charges stemming from 1999 conduct. His crime? The gist is that the governor asked one of the richest men in the state, businessman Richard Scrushy, to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, and then re-appointed Scrushy to an unpaid state hospital board upon which Scrushy had served under three Republican governors previously.

Shuler has written hundreds of Legal Schnauzer columns documenting myriad legal misconduct in Siegelman's state and federal prosecutions, which enabled the Riley family to win and retain power without competition from Siegelman, the state's leading Democrat.

Regarding Shuler's own case, he cited to me this week major violations of precedent and procedure, such as prior restraint, secret courts, jailing without bond, and lack of an arrest warrant.

The lack of support for this man is breathtaking when you consider how many of his professional colleagues are under attack both here and abroad.   I won't belabor the hypocrisy of a government that talks about freedom in Ukraine and Crimea while assaulting basic rights here and abroad with impunity.  Fortunately, there are some who remember him....
The Committee to Protect Journalists, one of relatively few media organizations to protest Shuler's treatment, listed him in its annual worldwide survey as the only jailed journalist in the Western Hemisphere at the end of 2013. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press stepped forward with a letter on his behalf to the court.

These actions prompted several other groups to mention him briefly in their newsletters or other publications. But those scattered and sporadic efforts are no match for those within the court system who seem determined to destroy Shuler and his wife financially and otherwise.

The whole article is well worth the read, but in the interest of generating a lot of attention, this is the problem:  The powers that be are on a mission to crush Shuler and ruin him. Forget due process.  Forget constitutional rights.  Forget common decency.  They are going to have their pound of flesh and when they are done, they will do to him what their forefathers did to the Native Americans.  

The question for folks here is simple.  Are we going to be silent in the face of this outrage, only waiting until something horrible and irreversible has happened before we voice outrage?    The powers that be are banking on our indifference.  They count on us to forget.  

One of the most memorable experiences I had as a young man was listening to Jacobo Timerman describe his experience at the hands of the Argentinian Junta.  What saved him was the work of ordinary people through the agency of Amnesty International.  He described how the torturers used to make it clear "No one knows you are here.  No one can hear you scream."  They did it to break your will.  But one day, a jailer came to his cell and tossed a bunch of letters at his feet.  They were part of the campaign launched through Amnesty International.  "They know you are here," was all the jailer said.  Timerman found the hope he desperately needed to survive in that moment.  It's stunning how much we can do with even a modest gesture.  

What will you do?

11:52 AM PT: I want to clarify a couple of points in response to some of the comments.  As I indicated in the original posting, the main concerns here are the ones articulated by Krieg:

Regarding Shuler's own case, he cited to me this week major violations of precedent and procedure, such as prior restraint, secret courts, jailing without bond, and lack of an arrest warrant.

Whether or not Shuler is a journalist is secondary.  The fact is at least one group that is interested in protecting journalists has spoken up on his behalf.  I am not interested in arguing the point further than that.  

Similarly, I do not feel obliged to argue whether or not Krieg's rhetorical appeal to authority by analogizing his letter to that of King's is justifiable or even effective.

The bottom line is a guy -- with a documented record of irascibility -- has played an important role over the years and is now paying a price that is completely outside the bounds of legal or ethical behavior.  

What is clear to me, and this is just my opinion, is that the people tormenting him in this case are doing it with the expectation that no one will notice or care.   My purpose for highlighting this here is to raise awareness and publicize the situation so those inclined and able to affect the process have more leverage to ensure fair treatment.

Advocating for fairness, due process, and public disclosure in no way prejudges the legitimacy of any party's claim.  I don't think this is asking anyone to compromise their integrity.

I raise the issue here, because if we don't care about those things when it hits this close to home, why should we care about it anywhere else?  Why should anyone else care?

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