In October, Paul Trummel, a former resident of the Council House retirement home in Seattle, was ordered by a Seattle judge to remove personal and critical information about the home from the Internet. The home claimed the actions violated Washington's anti-harassment laws, which can carry criminal penalties. Trummel was jailed for contempt of court when he continued his site. He was released Monday, provided he pull down the information by Friday.
Trummel's site contained a litany of complaints against the home, saying the staff was abusive and violated federal housing laws. It also listed names and numbers of the staff, turning the case into one thatfree speech against privacy. Federal investigators have not found evidence of wrongdoing.
King County Superior Court Judge James A. Doerty decided Friday that Trummel was no longer in contempt and allowed him to stay out of jail. However, Trummel risks more jail time if he does not continue to comply with the October order.
Trummel's attorneys characterized the ruling as an abuse of harassment laws in an attempt to quash speech and criticism.
"It's a ludicrous assertion that somehow names and addresses are prohibited from being published," said Elena Luisa Garella, a lawyer representing Trummel. "He's not allowed to utter the name of the people who run this federally funded home forever."
Trummel, who spent some of his time in solitary confinement, has posted an "apologia" on his site, detailing his decision and promising to defend himself.
"I hope that those who have supported me will agree with my decision," he wrote. "It in no way means defeat."
He also said in the posting that the judge "fictionalizes fact in a libelous personal attack upon my character and my past experience." Doerty in an earlier ruling called Trummel "a mean, old man who becomes vicious and threatening when he doesn't get his own way in the chronic disputes he has with employers, landlords, building managers, and neighbors."
The court's decision comes just a month after another court cracked down on Web speech in a high-profile case involving an anti-abortion Web site. In that case, a federal appellate courtanti-abortion wanted posters are illegal threats, not free speech.