First Amendment takes a Beating in Pacific Northwest
by Scott G. Neil
James A. Doerty (King County) sentenced a 69 year old man (Trummel) to jail for 111 days for contempt of court when the man refused to remove from his website the names of a number of employees of a government-funded senior citizens’ home who were alleged to have been involved in some sort of mischief and cover-up at the home. This has become a hot and emotional issue in the Puget Sound area. Since we've fought our own First Amendment battles (and won), we're especially sensitive to First Amendment issues, particularly since the First Amendment seems to be taking a pretty tough beating in the Pacific Northwest of late.
In the above case, we do not have enough facts to form a solid overall opinion, though we seem to be leaning in the following direction. Many have chastised Judge Doerty for jailing a 69 year old man. We say the man's age is not and can not be a factor in whether or not to jail him, except in extraordinary circumstances.
Many have denounced Doerty for restricting Trummel's supposed First Amendment right to post the names of the government employees in question. We feel Doerty is way out of line in this regard since, by so ruling, Doerty is stating that no one, not citizen, not reporter, may ever publicly disseminate the name of any other person if the person being named disagrees with the opinions being voiced. Obviously this is madness. It is not merely anti-American, it is anti-logic.
One side claims that Trummel has a diminished First Amendment right because he is not a bona fide and/or employed reporter. Trummel does hold a press card of some sort but the entire issue is moot in any case and therefore not worthy of discussion.
Many have criticized Doerty for his unquestionably biased and uncalled for remarks to and about Trummel from the bench, [Trummel] is just a mean old man; Trummel is not a citizen of this country, etc., etc., ad nauseam. We agree: that was heinously unprofessional conduct by Doerty, and we wonder why he felt the need to say things which have no real bearing on the legalities of the case. But even if Doerty felt compelled to say such things, while realizing they should not be said, the fact that his mouth apparently works independently of his brain makes us wonder if the man is psychologically fit to sit in judgment over others - ANY others.
Isn't it odd how judges feel THEY have the right to publicly demean, defame, criticize and insult with impunity and for no logical reason, yet work overtime to restrict others (read Trummel) from disseminating THEIR opinions and observations. Doerty named Trummel by name when he blasted his character in very public manner, yet Doerty put Trummel in jail for 111 days when Trummel named the objects of his ire. Should Doerty do the same jail time as Trummel? If there's a difference between the two transgressions, what is it? [Impunity]
Normally we are too busy to involve ourselves in political freak shows (meaning the Council House allegations and the ensuing circus in Doerty's court), and we're not going to take sides to any appreciable degree in this matter without knowing all the facts. At this point we don't know who to believe - Doerty, Trummel, the government employees, but we want to know. The very fact that we want to know makes this a newsworthy story, and Trummel is as free as anyone to report it.
If he lies or defames, then he can, and should be, sued. If he does not lie or defame, if he prints only truths, and opinions based on related truths, identifying each as such, then he enjoys the protection of the Constitution's First Amendment along with the rest of us who may wish to disagree with Trummel's assessments of the goings on at Council House.
It SEEMS just that clear, but we are not prepared to say it IS just that clear because, to reiterate, we simply do not have all the facts. How are we supposed to obtain all the facts so that we may solidify our opinion and take action we feel is appropriate? We expect to have the story made available to us by a variety of sources, none of which will be dictated to, or censored for content, by the government.
THAT part IS . . . just that simple.
Scott G. Neil.
Judge Doerty's opinion is only one phase of this case. It is significant to realize that his decision was not "automatically" posted as some function of local government; rather, the opinion was posted voluntarily by Doerty's own hand. Apparently Doerty is proud of this document and the fact that he is free to publish HIS obnoxious opinions while jailing anyone else who dares to do the same thing. If this doesn't bring you to the brink of rage (and terror), you're taking too much Prozac. How do such illogical people weasel their ways into positions of power? Simple: They SEEK power over others, and no one stops them.