Shut Up

Two annoying dissenters lose some freedom.

It's been a bad month for the First Amendment. Freelance journalist Paul Trummel of Seattle lost an appeal June 14, ending, for the moment, his fight for free speech on the Internet. And an African-American activist named Anwar Peace, who has aggressively hectored Seattle's police chief in public and by phone, failed to get a protection order lifted, which seems to mean he can't legally visit City Hall when the chief's in the neighborhood.

In the first case, the state Court of Appeals upheld a King County Superior Court ruling, finding that Trummel, 70, who was evicted from a residence for seniors because he harassed them, was rightly held in contempt of court for not editing, as ordered, harassing comments from his Web site (see "The Jailbird Journalist," Nov. 26, 2003). Trummel, who did 111 days in jail for snubbing the Superior Court judge's order, "vigorously puts forth the First Amendment as a shield," the appellate court said, but "the trial court focused on Trummel's conduct rather than his speech. The court appropriately used the civil anti-harassment statute to protect the residents from having to endure aggressive and hostile personal confrontations and surveillance while in the privacy of a home; and appropriately concluded that the public posting of personal information violated the no-surveillance provision of the order." Trummel has not said that he will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but he did call the ruling a "temp­orary setback," adding, "I did not expect too much from the opinion, and therefore I am not too disappointed."

In the wake of the second case, political protesters might want to be very careful what they say to Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, as well as how vociferously they say it. Last summer, the chief got a protection order against Peace, who has repeatedly sought the chief's attention when encountering him in public and with phone messages left on his public phone system, hoping to talk with him about police shootings of African Americans. Peace appealed the order in King County Superior Court. His lawyer, William Crittendon, contends that because the chief is a public official, citizens have a legitimate right to accost him in public. Leo Poort, a Seattle Police Department attorney, argues that Peace was harassing the chief, in the manner a stalker might harass a woman, for example. He also pointed out that Kerlikowske carries a weapon, implying that the chief can take care of himself, which makes one wonder who needs protecting. Cheryl Carey, a King County Superior Court judge, ruled on June 11 that the protection order, which prevents Peace from coming within 500 feet of the chief or communicating with him in any way, would stand and that there were no constitutional conflicts. Whether that allows Peace to, say, testify at City Council hearings or even do routine business with the city is not clear: City Hall is directly across Fifth Avenue from Seattle Police Headquarters. Peace's attorney says he will probably take the case to the state Court of Appeals.

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