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ACLU-UM slams DPS for banning Shirvell from campus

BY HILLARY BOK
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 16, 2010

The University’s undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union condemned the Department of Public Safety for its trespass order against Andrew Shirvell — the former Michigan assistant attorney general notorious for his blog attacking Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong.

The trespass order was put in place after Shirvell started showing up at campus events Armstrong was attending.

In addition to its condemnation, ACLU-UM also called for a review of DPS’s trespass policy in a letter sent to University President Mary Sue Coleman and DPS director Ken Magee last week.

In a press release issued yesterday, ACLU-UM officials stated that they believe DPS’s current trespass policy allows the director “wide discretion in issuing trespass bans.” The release also calls the trespass policy unconstitutional.

Mallory Jones, chair of the University’s undergraduate chapter of the ACLU, said in an interview that she believes the trespass warning placed on Shirvell demonstrates a fundamental problem with the policy.

Once a trespass order is issued it can only be lifted or modified through a meeting between the person it is issued against and the DPS director.

“We feel it is an example of where power is being abused,” Jones, a former news editor for The Michigan Daily said. “We feel that way because there are no charges pending against (Shirvell) and Chris Armstrong has withdrawn his request for a restraining order. We don’t think it’s necessary for the University to still have restrictions placed against him.”

DPS originally issued a trespass warning barring Shirvell from setting foot on the University’s Ann Arbor campus on Sept. 14. The order was modified on Nov. 5 to allow Shirvell on campus, except for at events where it is reasonably assumed that Armstrong will be present. In addition, if Shirvell sees Armstrong at an event where he is present, he must leave.

The letter sent to Coleman and Magee criticizes the trespass order against Shirvell stating that “the First Amendment intentionally and necessarily defends Shirvell’s offensive and appalling speech. Our Constitution gives a citizen the right to be a bigot and to freely express his bigotry.”

Jones said in the interview that she believes that the wording of DPS Policy and Procedural Order on Trespass is too vague and that this ambiguity allows for an abuse of power to take place.

She also expressed concern about the way the appeals process is structured.

“Right now, if you’ve been banned from campus and you want to appeal that decision, you appeal that straight back to the director of the Department of Public Safety — who is the person who issued you the ban,” she said.

The goal of the letter, according to ACLU-UM officials, is to start a dialogue and begin revising the trespass policy with DPS and the University.

DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said “the Department’s official statement is that we have received the letter and we will be reviewing it.”

Shirvell started a blog in April called Chris Armstrong Watch that criticized the MSA president and accused him of promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.” In addition, Shirvell appeared at multiple events where Armstrong was present including an MSA meeting, where Shirvell called for Amrstrong’s resignation.

Shirvell’s criticism of Armstrong gained national attention in September, and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox fired Shirvell last week for what he said was "conduct unbecoming of a state employee."

Armstrong and his lawyer have also filed complaints with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission against Shirvell alleging that he violated the state’s professional conduct code for attorneys.