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Alabama blogger jailed over reporting on potential congressional candidate

The allegation that Rob Riley, a potential 6th District candidate, had an affair has sparked a lawsuit, an injunction and an arrest

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

alabama mugBIRMINGHAM (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus’s decision to retire has set off a mad political scramble in suburban Birmingham that has already taken an extremely strange turn with the arrest of a blogger over what he reported about one of the possible candidates.

Jailed blogger Roger Shuler

Jailed blogger Roger Shuler

Roger Shuler, who writes a blog called Legal Schnauzer, alleged that Rob Riley, the son of former Gov. Bob Riley who is widely expected to run for Bachus’s seat, had an extramartial affair with a lobbyist.

Both Riley and the lobbyist vehemently denied the allegation, and Riley sued Shuler for defamation. Then, he got a state judge to issue an injunction ordering Shuler to remove the information from his Web site.

When Shuler refused to comply, he was arrested for violating the court order. He has been in the Shelby County Jail since October 23, insisting that the judge’s ruling violates the First Amendment.

“Free press, free speech, the First Amendment — none of this means anything to these people,” Shuler said in a jailhouse interview with the Web site WhoWhatWhy. “I don’t see any reason I should remove the material. Is a person obliged to take an action based on a judge’s unlawful order?”

Free press advocates have rallied to Shuler’s defense, including the ACLU, The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and The Committee to Protect Journalists. The CPJ, which keeps track of more than 200 journalists jailed around world, has Shuler as the only American on its list.

Rob Riley

Rob Riley

The national and international coverage of Shuler’s detention has likely drawn more attention to his original allegations against Riley than they would have received on Legal Schnauzer alone. But Riley, an attorney, told the CPJ that he decided to take action against Shuler because the blogger “has a history of making up things and writing things that are outlandish lies.”

“He has no proof this is true. He has just decided to be a cyber-bully and make stuff up, and I’ve had enough,” Riley said.

Riley is one of more than a dozen potential Republican candidates in what’s likely to be a crowded field for the 6th District seat, which Bachus has held since 1992. It is one of the most Republican districts in the country, giving Mitt Romney 74 percent of the vote in 2012.

Among those who have already announced are State Rep. Paul DeMarco; Gary Palmer, former head of the Alabama Policy Institute; Chad Mathis, a surgeon and Tea Party activist; businessman Ed Langan; and Will Brooke, an attorney with a venture capital firm. State Senator Scott Beason, who challenged Bachus in the 2012 GOP primary, is also considering a bid.

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