|NMU||WASHINGTON||Prior Restraints||Jun 5, 2002|
Self-proclaimed journalist still jailed
- A Washington judge ruled Web publication is “harassment,” keeping 69-year-old Paul Trummel in solitary confinement after he refused to remove accusatory content about a Seattle housing complex.
A Seattle man who claims he was acting as an investigative journalist probing corruption and discrimination at his 163-unit elderly housing complex has been jailed on a harassment charge since February and was placed in solitary confinement last week.
Former neighbors, landlords and a Washington state judge disagree, saying Paul Trummel engaged in harassment not journalism.
For months, Trummel published his findings about Council House in a printed newsletter and online, both of which Seattle Superior Court Judge James Doerty ruled were “inflammatory” and contributed to the charge of harassment, for which he was later jailed.
Trummel ceased publication and distribution of his newsletter more than a year ago but continued posting content online detailing what he described as the home’s “supremacist tactics.” But in October 2001, Doerty ruled that selective online content, like Trummel’s calling his Jewish landlord a “turbaned terrorist,” had to be removed as well.
Trummel complied but said his status as “a card-carrying member of the international press” and former status as a London journalist gave him First Amendment rights to online publication. Trummel is a member of the International Federation of Journalists, a Brussels-based organization that claims on its Web site to have 500,000 members in 100 countries.
Trummel subsequently launched what he described as an “international edition” of the original site, using a Netherlands-based server.
Doerty on Feb. 27 sent Trummel to jail, saying he failed to “permanently alter” the online accusatory language, because the new Web site at www.contracabal.org had the same audience and contained the same list of landlords and tenants as his original site. On April 3, the judge drafted an order to keep Trummel in jail because his site “was accessed and found to be in the same state as at the February hearing.”
Unable to make the changes from jail, Trummel was ordered to appoint a second party to make them. Trummel refused and remains in King County Jail in Seattle.
Although Council House was federally examined and no negligence or tenant abuse was found, other tenants support Trummel’s efforts.
“I was scared when I lived there,” wrote one elderly woman to Seattle Weekly , an alternative newsweekly that has covered Trummel’s disputes with Council House several times.
Another Council House resident, Nathaniel Stahl, wrote an opposing letter to the newspaper, arguing that Trummel did not conduct himself in a professional manner nor did he publish appropriate material to earn the title of a journalist.
“Mr. Trummel has spent years seriously demeaning and harassing residents here, conducting illegal surveillance on us, spreading lies about us, threatening many of us he ‘imagined’ were his ‘enemies’,” Stahl wrote in the letter published June 7, 2001. “Mr. Trummel has menaced this community and continues to menace this community.”
Judge Doerty, for one, said Trummel is not a journalist.
“It is my finding specifically that his claim to be a journalist is a bogus claim insofar as he has no useful journalistic purpose,” Doerty said. “He is not employed by anyone but himself. There is no publisher involved. There is merely the misguided use of an obviously well-developed talent.”
Trummel’s attorney Robert J. Siegel said the two men are now at a “a standoff.”
Recently moved to solitary confinement for what appears to be phone privilege abuse, Trummel is working with Siegel to rally support for his situation. A support fund and a message board appear at www.freepaultrummel.com.
(Trummel v. Mitchell) — CL
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press