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2010-10-29

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Armstrong, attorney file complaints seeking possible disbarment for Ass't AG Shirvell

Torehan Sharman/Daily, Marissa McClain/Daily
Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong (left) and Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan. Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published October 29, 2010

Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong and his attorney filed a pair of complaints today against Andrew Shirvell, a Michigan assistant attorney general, seeking an investigation and possible disbarment for attacks Shirvell made against Armstrong.

The complaints, filed with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, allege Shirvell violated multiple rules and guidelines in the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct — a set of ethics standards that every attorney in Michigan agrees to abide by as part of becoming licensed to practice in the state.

Armstrong and his attorney Deborah Gordon each filed separate complaints with the board.

“I felt that I could not stand by and let Mr. Shirvell continue his reckless, bullying behavior,” Armstrong said in a statement.

The allegations stem from an ongoing controversy surrounding a blog, Chris Armstrong Watch, on which Shirvell accused Armstrong of promoting a “radical homosexual agenda” and being an “elitist.” Shirvell also showed up at several events on campus where Armstrong was in attendance, including an MSA meeting at which he called for Armstrong to resign.

When contacted for comment on the complaints, Shirvell’s attorney, Philip Thomas, said he had not been notified about them being filed, but said he was “shocked” by the news.

“I don’t understand it, I don’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish. I think they fear that they’re striking out because they think that they’re losing ground,” Thomas said, citing the recent resolution of a personal protection order against his client and denial of a stalking complaint against Shirvell.

“My client is the victim in all of this,” Thomas said. “The only thing this poor guy ever did, the only thing Andrew ever did was exercise his Constitutional right to protest. And he did that. And I just think this smells to high heaven, I really do.”

Gordon told The Michigan Daily in an interview this afternoon that the complaints allege violations of rules 8.3 and 8.4 of the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.

“We’ve filed formal complaints,” Gordon said in the interview. “I feel very strongly that Shirvell has violated these rules and if you do you can lose your license to practice law.”

Armstrong’s complaint centers around rule 8.4, which defines “misconduct” under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, according to a press release issued by Gordon.

“The Rule states, in part, that ‘it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or violation of the criminal law, where such conduct reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer,’ ” Gordon wrote in the release.

In addition to rule 8.4, the complaint filed by Gordon also focuses on rule 8.3, which requires that a lawyer must report another attorney to the Attorney Grievance Commission if they have knowledge of a “significant violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.”

On top of the complaints, Gordon told the Daily she is also sending a letter to Shirvell’s attorney.

“(We’re) asking for retractions of all the lies and defamation, asking him to ensure that he does not tamper with evidence, that he maintain his hard drive, computer and so on.”

Gordon, who was an assistant attorney general in Michigan early in her career, said there’s been no decision on whether to pursue further legal action at this time, but made it clear that litigation hasn’t been ruled out.

“The request for the retraction is the first step in the process. We have not made a final decision on (litigation),” Gordon said. “I’ve been retained now. I’m a lawyer that brings litigation typically.”

Gordon continued: “It’s unfortunate that is has to come to this, and maybe it won’t, but at this point something has to be done to stop this person.”

A call to Armstrong was not immediately returned.

An official at the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission said she could not confirm whether or not the complaints had been filed because all filings are confidential.

Shirvell was banned from the University's Ann Arbor campus on Sept. 14 by the Department of Public Safety. Shirvell and his attorney requested a hearing to appeal the trespass order, which was heard today, according to DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown.

Brown said a decision on the appeal is expected in the next several days. She said possible outcomes could include denying the appeal, revoking the trespass order all together or modifying the scope of the order to allow Shirvell on certain parts of campus.

— Daily News Editors Stephanie Steinberg and Devon Thorsby contributed to this report.


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