The Punt-Away Juror: How I Missed Being a Juror in the Mike Hubbard Trial

The verdict is in: I’m an idiot.

I could have been in the jury pool for the Mike Hubbard trial in Opelika.

It all started when I received the following in early April:

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Could it be? The Holy Grail of Lee County trials? The trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 23 felony charges related to ethics violations?

Mind you, my excitement related more to being part of an event, a happening, something historic.

Yes, I have read my own tweets about the evidence and the delays. I harbored no illusions.  But still; this would be awesome.

I realize that Judge Jacob Walker III had mentioned an earlier trial that he would need to clear out before the Hubbard trial could begin, so I was also prepared for that.

Then, a couple of weeks later, I received a juror’s questionnaire. A long one. Lots of questions about crime, politics, the courts.  And the questionnaire cautioned that the trial could last three weeks. That was the tip.

So I sent it in and then prepared myself. I stopped tweeting about the trial and talked about it only a little. I told a few friends, when it was relevant, about the jury pool thing. They thought it was funny too.

Then my stupidity set in.

First, let me plead prior experience — and while I do so, sound like one of my own students after missing a class event.

I had been called to jury duty twice when I lived in California. You were notified that you were in the pool, then the day before, you were contacted and told whether to show up.

Then, I noted in the papers that jury selection would begin on May 16.  Yes, I KNOW that I did not hear anything from Trisha Campbell, court administrator. Yes, I KNOW that my most recent official instructions said May 9.

So, after not getting a call I wasn’t promised, I did what any know-it-all professor would do. I didn’t show up. I looked forward to the fun on May 16.

Friday morning, at our weekly Chappy’s crew breakfast, I even asked Sheriff Jay Jones about parking. He told me it would be catch-as-catch-can, but he pointed out a couple of less-used parking areas.

Then, the afternoon mail brought this letter:

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I was mortified, more than usual. When I teach Reporting, I take my students to cover trials at Lee County District Court.  Trisha Campbell and her assistant, Rebecca, have always been helpful to my students — letting us know which trials were at a better point for coverage.

And now, I had blown her off. I e-mailed her immediately and apologized.

So on Monday morning, while Alabama news hounds focused on the T.K. Davis Justice Center, I typed this blog.  I also served on the jury for a master’s thesis defense, since I had lost my excused absence.

I would not march into Judge Walker’s court with 100-plus other prospective jurors and hope that Elizabeth White (WTVM) or Katherine Haas (Opelika-Auburn News) would see me.

All because I am a too-cool-for-school idiot who can’t follow directions. Don’t look at me. It’s too hideous.

We went to Price’s BBQ house for breakfast, to soothe the hurt. There I saw Dr. Gerald Johnson, another Chappy’s regular and a former political science professor. He was disappointed. “You could have been a footnote to history,” he said. “Now you are a footnote to a footnote.”

Or maybe ignorant foot fungus to a footnote.

I seriously doubt that I would have ended up on the jury. They hear “professor,” they hear “journalism,” and if it were possible, a spring-loaded chair would have boing-ed me back to the catch-as-catch-can parking lot.

 

Plus, I hear that employment at Auburn disqualified a few prospective jurors anyway.

But I have learned my lesson. So I can announce: if anything comes of the charges against Gov. Bentley, Roy Moore, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth, or anyone, I am willing to serve.

I’ve got this “show up at the correct date and time” thing down, I think.

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No Defense for the First Amendment

The news media of Alabama — particularly the Alabama Media Group/al.com — shamed itself by not defending the First Amendment against its assault by a Shelby County judge.

Granted, the case is as bizarre as the behavior of the blogger involved.  But First Amendment cases are a matter of principle, regardless of the individual whose rights are attacked.  It is not up to the courts — nor the news media — to determine who deserves First Amendment protection.  Freedom of the press is a right of the people, not the news media.

When acting Shelby County Circuit Judge Claud Neilson issued an injunction preventing Legal Schnauzer blogger Roger Shuler from writing about an alleged affair between a former governor’s son and a Republican lobbyist, that was unconstitutional and the state’s news media should have responded quickly.

The injunction was issued before Oct. 3, when Shuler said he was served with the order, and he was arrested on Wednesday, Oct. 23, for violating it.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote about it on Friday, Oct. 25.

But where were the “leading” news sites of Alabama when all this was going on?  Absent and silent.  The RCFP (a respected media rights watchdog group) reported it, and other bloggers expressed outrage, but a Google News search for four days after the RCFP report turned up nothing else.

Finally, on Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Alabama Media Group posted a story about the case.  It was well reported and included the constitutional controversy, but that was as far as it went.  No editorial opposition or further comment.  AMG, which includes three of the biggest and most distinguished newspapers in the state — the Birmingham NewsMobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times — has allowed this story to die along with Shuler’s First Amendment rights.

(Note: Daily visits to the al.com search page for “Shuler” produced nothing until the Oct. 29 article.  A more recent search referred to an article under “Clay, AL community news” on Oct. 28, and one under “Pelham local impact” on Oct. 25.  However, both articles share the heading used by the Oct. 29 article, and a link to those pages does not show an article on the day in question, so I am taking that for a glitch.)

Other state newspapers do not fare well, either.  Neither the Montgomery Advertiser nor the Tuscaloosa News have reported or commented on this.  Even the Shelby County Reporter, a lively community newspaper that covers Neilson’s court, did not post an article until Oct. 29.

This silence by the state’s newspapers is deplorable and sets a poor example for the next generation of journalists.  The political motivations of Judge Neilson’s actions — granting an unconstitutional prior restraint to Bob Riley Jr., the former governor’s son — are apparent.

In a state like Alabama, where political dirty tricks and insider networks poison state politics, it’s even more scary.  When shady state political leaders see something like this happening, with no legal or media response, you wonder if they consider this another trick to add to the bag in dealing with critics and opponents.

People argue that Shuler’s actions in flaunting a judge’s order deserve arrest and imprisonment, but that misses the point.  The restraining order that created this circus should not have been issued, period.

The traditional recourse for someone like Riley Jr. is to sue Shuler for libel.  If Shuler is the journalistic disaster he claims, Riley can sue him and add financial bankruptcy to the ethical bankruptcy he alleges concerning Shuler.

That is the correct remedy, not issuing restraining orders before things are written.  Such judicial overreach creates a “chilling effect” on public debate that certainly is convenient for state politicians, but defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.  You blew it, Judge Neilson.

And until the state’s newspapers step forward and do their part to defend the First Amendment that protects their right to publish, they are just as complicit by their silence.

In an Internet age, where the speed of news transmission and the breadth of news contributors have both exploded, all journalists must hold on to such enduring foundational treasures against all threats.  It is our duty.

No Defense for the First Amendment

The news media of Alabama — particularly the Alabama Media Group/al.com — shamed itself by not defending the First Amendment against its assault by a Shelby County judge.

Granted, the case is as bizarre as the behavior of the blogger involved.  But First Amendment cases are a matter of principle, regardless of the individual whose rights are attacked.  It is not up to the courts — nor the news media — to determine who deserves First Amendment protection.  Freedom of the press is a right of the people, not the news media.

When acting Shelby County Circuit Judge Claud Neilson issued an injunction preventing Legal Schnauzer blogger Roger Shuler from writing about an alleged affair between a former governor’s son and a Republican lobbyist, that was unconstitutional and the state’s news media should have responded quickly.

The injunction was issued before Oct. 3, when Shuler said he was served with the order, and he was arrested on Wednesday, Oct. 23, for violating it.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote about it on Friday, Oct. 25.

But where were the “leading” news sites of Alabama when all this was going on?  Absent and silent.  The RCFP (a respected media rights watchdog group) reported it, and other bloggers expressed outrage, but a Google News search for four days after the RCFP report turned up nothing else.

Finally, on Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Alabama Media Group posted a story about the case.  It was well reported and included the constitutional controversy, but that was as far as it went.  No editorial opposition or further comment.  AMG, which includes three of the biggest and most distinguished newspapers in the state — the Birmingham NewsMobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times — has allowed this story to die along with Shuler’s First Amendment rights.

(Note: Daily visits to the al.com search page for “Shuler” produced nothing until the Oct. 29 article.  A more recent search referred to an article under “Clay, AL community news” on Oct. 28, and one under “Pelham local impact” on Oct. 25.  However, both articles share the heading used by the Oct. 29 article, and a link to those pages does not show an article on the day in question, so I am taking that for a glitch.)

Other state newspapers do not fare well, either.  Neither the Montgomery Advertiser nor the Tuscaloosa News have reported or commented on this.  Even the Shelby County Reporter, a lively community newspaper that covers Neilson’s court, did not post an article until Oct. 29.

This silence by the state’s newspapers is deplorable and sets a poor example for the next generation of journalists.  The political motivations of Judge Neilson’s actions — granting an unconstitutional prior restraint to Bob Riley Jr., the former governor’s son — are apparent.

In a state like Alabama, where political dirty tricks and insider networks poison state politics, it’s even more scary.  When shady state political leaders see something like this happening, with no legal or media response, you wonder if they consider this another trick to add to the bag in dealing with critics and opponents.

People argue that Shuler’s actions in flaunting a judge’s order deserve arrest and imprisonment, but that misses the point.  The restraining order that created this circus should not have been issued, period.

The traditional recourse for someone like Riley Jr. is to sue Shuler for libel.  If Shuler is the journalistic disaster he claims, Riley can sue him and add financial bankruptcy to the ethical bankruptcy he alleges concerning Shuler.

That is the correct remedy, not issuing restraining orders before things are written.  Such judicial overreach creates a “chilling effect” on public debate that certainly is convenient for state politicians, but defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.  You blew it, Judge Neilson.

And until the state’s newspapers step forward and do their part to defend the First Amendment that protects their right to publish, they are just as complicit by their silence.

In an Internet age, where the speed of news transmission and the breadth of news contributors have both exploded, all journalists must hold on to such enduring foundational treasures against all threats.  It is our duty.