SEATTLE – A 68-year-old man jailed for 3.5 months for refusing to remove personal information about people he disliked from his website was released Monday.
Superior Court Judge James A. Doerty gave Paul Trummel until Friday to remove the addresses and phone numbers of directors, staff and neighbors at the retirement home where he used to live. Otherwise, he will be sent back to jail.
The case has drawn attention from First Amendment groups, but the judge said the case was not about freedom of speech. Trummel, he said, is simply “a mean old man who becomes angry and vicious when he doesn’t get his own way.”
About three years ago, Trummel began publishing a website and newsletter detailing his complaints about Council House, a 163-unit, federally subsidized apartment building in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. He accused staff and residents of bigotry, housing-law violations, a conspiracy to keep him awake at night, even “sexual dysfunction.”
Council House managers claimed harassment, and in October, the judge ordered Trummel to remove the personal data. Trummel initially complied but soon listed the information again. Doerty found him in contempt Feb. 27 and sent him to King County Jail.
“All he’s alleged to have done is publish names and phone numbers on the Internet. It’s not against the law to do so,” said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Libel Defense Resource Center in New York.
“It’s been horribly scary,” said Nathaniel Stahl, 59. “He’s spent all these years trying to really hurt people here.”
Trummel’s lawyers said they do not know whether he plans to comply with the judge’s order.