NEWSLETTER AND Internet publisher Paul Trummel, whose February jailing prompted a flood of protests by journalists and others around the U.S., has now been dispatched to solitary confinement at King County Jail.
Trummel has been incarcerated since Feb. 27 by order of King County Superior Court Judge James Doerty for contempt of court after failing to permanently alter the accusatory language on his Web site.
According to supporters and his attorney, Trummel was sent to "The Hole," as one put it, last Thursday, May 23, as the result of a squabble over Trummel's phone privileges, which Judge Doerty apparently felt he was abusing.
The judge prohibited Trummel from using the phone except to call a public defender, says Seattle attorney Robert Siegel, who is handling Trummel's appeal in the contempt case.
"I am advised that since it was too hard for his jailers to monitor his phone use in regular prison, they then decided to put him in solitary to make it easier," says Siegel. "The situation is putting Paul's health and life at risk." Siegel says Trummel, 69, has arthritis and a prostate problem.
Doerty, who evicted Trummel from his subsidized Capitol Hill apartment at Council House last year for misconduct related to publishing and distributing an accusatory newsletter, had ordered Trummel to edit out similar information published on his Web site (contracabal.net).
Trummel did, but then he created an "international edition" (contracabal.org) containing the same disputed information. Doerty ruled that was contempt of court and sent Trummel to jail until he agrees to change the site.
The case is thought to be the first here to delve into the constitutional issue of what can be posted on the Internet based on the journalistic standing of the writer or publisher. Trummel calls himself a semiretired former London journalist and college instructor and considers himself a bona fide reporter.
Doerty says Trummel is no such thing because he isn't paid for his newsletter/online work. Trummel also maintains that his often-vicious criticisms are protected by the First Amendment like those of any citizen, regardless of journalistic affiliation. Doerty has ruled against that defense.
Trummel claimed he was probing corruption and discrimination at Council House, a 163-unit residence for seniors, when Doerty barred him from the home last year for harassment. A Council House spokesperson said the home had "been under a federal investigation and [was] looked at many times by state agencies and never had a problem."
Supporters of Trummel, responding to stories in Seattle Weekly and, subsequently, elsewhere, including The Washington Post's Newsbytes, have flooded Doerty's e-mail with angry reactions. This week supporter Rosalie Gillman of Seattle wrote U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, for assistance, telling Dunn that Trummel was "put in The Hole on the 10th floor of the King County Correctional Facility because the judge does not want him to use the telephone. . . . I am wondering why such cruel and inhuman punishment was imposed when the judge could have just ordered him off the phone. . . . "
Judge Doerty did not respond to telephone requests for comment, and an e-mail message was returned with an out-of-office reply stating that he was gone this week.
One resident of Council House, in an e-mail to the Weekly, argues that Trummel is in solitary because of his own doing. "Paul Trummel," he adds, "is a delusional man who believes in his own fantasies about himself—and his writings, full of conspiracy themes, reflect a further damaged personality."
Attorney Siegel sees it very differently. "This matter has now elevated beyond even the First Amendment outrage it began as. This is a petty tyrant judge running amok with power and possibly trying to cover his tracks."