LAST WEEK, Paul Trummel chose jail again rather than change his Web site. Trummel has been jailed since Feb. 27 for failing to alter accusatory language on his Web site as ordered by King County Judge James Doerty (“Forbidden Phrases,” March 21).
Trummel, 69, who says he’s a former London journalist and sometimes college instructor, claimed he was probing corruption and discrimination at Council House, a 163-unit residence for seniors on Capitol Hill, when Doerty barred him from the home last year for harassment (see “Fighting Words,” May 31, 2001). 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.”
Management and some residents at the subsidized-housing facility claim Trummel “terrorized” the home with his newsletter and online observations (contracabal.org) and has exaggerated his media credentials. Doerty apparently agreed, ruling that Trummel has no claim to freedom of the press because he does not have any income from his work.
Trummel’s attorney, Robert Siegel, who is appealing Doerty’s order, says the Constitution protects Trummel’s speech regardless of his standing as a member of the press.
On April 3, in an apparent concession, Doerty asked Trummel to appoint an outsider to make the editorial changes, because the accused could not make changes to the Web site from jail. Trummel refused and was returned to his King County jail cell.
Attorney Siegel, who calls the Doerty-Trummel standoff “a battle of egos,” says Trummel is encouraged by growing outside support. Besides e-mails, online chats are weighing in on the case, along with radio talk shows and The Washington Post‘s Newsbytes. Attorney James Chadwick told the Post that Doerty’s ruling is “classic prior restraint.” Chadwick says Trummel’s comments are protected speech unless there is a separate court finding that they are defamatory. Organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists are also trying to rally support, and a legal fund has been set up in Trummel’s name (Bank of America, 1309 Fourth, Seattle 98101).
At last week’s hearing, “Paul held his ground,” Siegel said, “and insisted he is being wrongfully jailed.”