ASJA Files Brief in Support of Maverick Writer

New York, NY Oct. 20, 2003 — The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the nation’s oldest organization of independent writers, filed on October 15, 2003 an amicus curiae brief with the Washington State Court of Appeals on behalf of Paul Trummel, 69, of Seattle, WA. Trummel spent 111 days in King County Jail after he defied a court order to remove from his website addresses, phone numbers and personal e-mail information about individuals related to the government-subsidized retirement home where he once lived.

Trummel was ordered to jail in 2002 after King County Superior Court Judge James Doerty rejected the argument that the retired college professor was exercising Constitutionally protected free speech. The judge held that Trummel was not a legitimate journalist because he “isn’t employed by anyone but himself”. The ruling was a “flagrant attack on the rights of all freelance writers,” said ASJA President Lisa Collier Cool. ASJA’s brief asks the court to note that “in none of the fifty states of these United States is there a licensing requirement for journalists. Nor are there other legal or quasi-legal requirements. The act of writing – whether or not the writer is a member of any association or union – is sufficient. There is no person and no organization that can decide who is or is not a journalist. “

As the brief continues, having a publisher is not necessary to act as a journalist. “Some of the most important statements in the history of our nation have been self-published or have appeared in small private newsletters. Tom Paine and I.F. Stone are notable examples.”

While Trummel was still in jail, ASJA’s First Amendment Committee took up the cause. Claire Safran, chair of the committee and a past ASJA president, said the case is typical of the committee’s work. “We defend freedom of speech even if it’s speech we hate,” she said.

The court’s ruling in this case “seems to say that because it does not consider Mr. Trummel to be a journalist he is not entitled to protection under the First Amendment,” said Safran. “But the amendment protects free speech for all people, regardless of whether the words are committed to paper,” she added.

ASJA’s First Amendment Committee has a 30-year history of taking strong stands on behalf of free speech issues. “The livelihood of our members depends on the free exercise of speech and of the press,” said Safran, adding that “the issues in the Trummel case bear directly on the concerns of all writers.”

Founded in 1948, ASJA is made up of more than 1,000 members who have met the Society’s exacting standards of professional achievement. Contact: Brett Harvey, Executive Director

212-997-0947 The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the national organization of independent nonfiction writers. Founded in 1948, the Society includes more than 1100 members who have met ASJA’s exacting standards of professional achievement.

ASJA’s Statement in the brief:

The American Society of Journalists and Authors is the national organization for leading independent non-fiction writers. We would like to present our views in this amicus curiae brief because the issues in this case bear directly on the concerns of all writers.

One of the primary issues is whether or not Mr. Trummel was serving as a “journalist” when he wrote the texts in question. We believe it is important for the court to note that in none of the fifty states of these United States is there a licensing requirement for journalists. Nor are there other legal or quasi-legal requirements for becoming a journalist. That is because, under the prevailing interpretation of the First Amendment, it would be a de facto violation of that Amendment for the government to impose a journalism license or other requirement. The act of writing – whether or not the writer is a member of any association or union – is sufficient. There is no person and no organization that can decide who is or is not a journalist.

The trial court noted that Mr. Trummel did not have a publisher. But even a publisher is not necessary to serve as a journalist. Some of the most important statements in the history of our nation have been self-published or have appeared in small, private newsletters or broadsides. Tom Paine and I.F. Stone are notable examples, but the list could go on and on.

The trial court’s ruling seems to be saying that because it did not consider Mr. Trummel to be a journalist, he is not entitled to protection under the First Amendment. But that amendment protects free speech for all people, regardless of whether the words are committed to paper. Even if Mr. Trummel had simply stood on his porch and spoken his opinions, he would have the right to do so under the First Amendment. That applies to the respondents as well. They would have done better to respond to him with more speech rather than with an attempt to gag him. They would have done better to use permissable tools, such as libel law, rather than attempt to exercise prior restraint against his free speech.