Media

Contempt for Free Speech

Who's a journalist?

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Paul Trummel is a cranky old man who made himself a terror to some of his neighbors at a federally subsidized housing complex for poor old people in Seattle. Now he has made himself a test case for determining who enjoys the protections of the First Amendment.

Trummel ran a Web site detailing, in often scabrous terms, his complaints about perceived mismanagement at the Council House complex. Its managers got a restraining order against Trummel, and Superior Court Judge James Doerty ordered him to stop publishing any personal identifying information of anyone associated in any way with Council House.

Trummel tried to evade the order by hosting his Web site in Europe. He was found in contempt of court and spent 111 days in jail for his illicit act of journalism. Since Trummel didn't work for a media company, Doerty said his claim to be a journalist with the right to publish what he pleased was "a self-serving fantasy."

An appeals court heard Trummel's case in late November. A ruling could take up to six months.