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Taking down 'harmful' Web site keeps Seattle man out of jail

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    NMU         WASHINGTON         Prior Restraints         Jun 21, 2002    

Taking down ‘harmful’ Web site keeps Seattle man out of jail

  • Rather than returning to solitary confinement in a King County jail, Paul Trummel removed personal information about his former landlords and accusations against them from the Internet.

After spending more than 100 days in jail and facing court threats of criminal action, an elderly Seattle man removed personal information from his Web site about officials at his former housing complex, whom he said he was investigating for tenant abuse.

The Seattle Superior Court judge’s attitude against Internet publisher Paul Trummel had not changed by today’s court appearance, according to Trummel’s attorney. Judge James Doerty called Trummel a “mean old man” at his June 17 court appearance, at which he gave Trummel five days to remove the names, addresses and other personal information about his former landlords at Council House, a Seattle Capitol Hill-area housing complex for the elderly.

Trummel complied June 19 by taking down his international site, www.contracabal.org, and replacing it with an “apologia,” which states his allegiance to fighting for First Amendment rights to publish. Although in the past he has claimed rights to publish online because he is a “card-carrying member of the International Press,” Trummel said he knows this fact does not make him “more of a journalist” or give him more rights to publish than another citizen.

Doerty agreed in court on June 17, and made clear that Trummel was jailed for continuing harassment of fellow tenants and landlords via posting their contact information.

Before Trummel removed his Web site June 19, several “mirror sites” had been created by supporters of his free-speech standoff with the court.

Although Trummel is now free — he is living at a cheap area hotel because the judge’s original restraining order kept him from coming within 500 feet of his own apartment building — Doerty extended the restraining order that keeps him from contact with residents of Council House, whom the judge argued Trummel still harasses. He now has specific street boundaries that he cannot cross. All are within a one-mile radius of Council House.

Trummel’s newly-appointed attorney, Brad A. Meryhew, unsuccessfully argued that the judge should recuse himself because Trummel had not received proper counsel early in his harassment trials and was jailed without being allowed to confer with an appointed attorney. Doerty did not recuse himself on those grounds. Meryhew said he will file for a motion to reconsider next week and will appeal to the Washington State Court of Appeals in Seattle if it is not heard.

Trummel cites his arthritis and respiratory problems as reasons for not keeping his content online and allowing himself to be sent back to jail for contempt.

“I feel good that this has been brought to the public light by me being in jail for over 100 days, but it was really tough being in solitary confinement,” he said. “Let’s face it, I’m old and the rooms are kept at 55 degrees … and I usually even wear thermal underwear when going to an air-conditioned movie theater, and my arthritis is really bad.”

But Trummel, in his online statement, says his fight is not over.

“I will continue my efforts on two fronts: to further expose the abuse of residents and misappropriation of government funds at Council House and to use higher courts to establish the freedom of speech that I cherish,” the apologia reads.

If Trummel re-posts the site or similar content, Doerty has said he would consider pursuing criminal charges against him.

(Trummel v. Mitchell) CL

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