HE DIDN'T FLINCH when the judge called him "a mean old man." He stared blankly as the court deemed him "vicious and threatening when he doesn't get his own way." His face was like poured cement when the judge termed his writings "anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and homophobic lies."
But the thinnest of smiles seemed to briefly cross Paul Trummel's face Monday as the white-haired Internet publisher heard a bitter Judge James Doerty of King County Superior Court say, at last, that the 68-year-old pensioner was free to go after 111 days in jail.
He still wasn't free to fully express himself in writing, and, in fact, if the British-born Trummel did, he might be deported, Doerty ruled with a glare. Nonetheless, there was a light ripple of approval from a band of supporters in a courtroom girded with increased security, including ID checks at the doorway. Though the judge has been under fire for his rulings and jail order, it was the defendant who requested the tighter restrictions. According to one of his attorneys, Trummel was worried that his detractors—who have threatened him by mail while he was in jail—would assault him in open court.
It has been that kind of case—the free-speech battle that has both sides telling the other to shut the hell up. Besides drawing global reaction and a stream of angry e-mails for Doerty, the debate has seriously balkanized the tenants at Trummel's former residence, the 163-unit Council House for senior citizens on Capitol Hill. Some residents describe it as "the retirees' Wrestlemania." One woman, 73, says she was assaulted by a man "armed" with a cane. "They're really going to be mad he's free," she said after the court hearing, while out in the hallway one of Trummel's opponents was calling him "a monster."
Trummel won only temporary and conditional freedom. He still must remove what the judge has deemed offensive and private information from his Web site by Friday morning. If not, the newsletter writer and self-described investigative journalist could be headed back to the slammer—where he has been sharing space with rape and murder suspects—and eventually could be deported, Doerty said.
What will he do? Neither Trummel nor his attorney, Brad Maryhew, was saying Monday. But Trummel's friends think he'll do as Doerty asks. "He's sick of the judge, but he's more sick of jail," said a supporter.
His jailing Feb. 27 was the latest installment in what a Trummel attorney calls the "battle of egos" between judge and writer. Doerty evicted Trummel from Council House last year for harassing residents and officials through an accusatory newsletter and Web site. He penned complaints about noise, maintenance, and management—calling Council House officials "pandering pygmies" and depicting the home's manager as Saddam Hussein.
Doerty ordered Trummel to edit some of his acerbic comments and to delete home addresses, private phone numbers, and Social Security numbers of Council House residents and officials from his Web site (contracabal.net). He did, then created an "international edition" (contracabal.org) containing the same disputed information. Doerty called that contempt and sent Trummel to jail until he agreed to change the site (Trummel is appealing Doerty's ruling that he has no free-speech protections as an "alleged" reporter or even as a private citizen).
His Web site order, the judge said this week, was just "a very slight infringement on his free speech. There are at least 15,000 words on that Web site, and the court's order affects less than 100 of them." Of course, an infringement is an infringement, one word or thousands, and that has riled First Amendment activists. Stories about the case in Seattle Weekly have sparked worldwide Net and media reaction, and support rained down for Trummel from writers and journalistic organizations. They rarely had a good word for the judge.
But Doerty wasn't swayed. He ruled that "nobody has license to behave" the way Trummel has, "but apparently anybody can get a press card; whoever gave Mr. Trummel his should be consulting their lawyers and their insurance carriers." Trummel, he added, "has had the opportunity to make many choices in this case, and he has made poor ones." His attorney made one for him after court Monday. "Paul has no comment," Maryhew said.
The Trummel ruling is online at www.metrokc.gov/kcsc/Index.htm.