Armstrong files civil suit against Shirvell

Marissa McClain/Daily
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By Joseph Lichterman, Daily News Editor
Published April 6, 2011

Former Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong filed a lawsuit against Andrew Shirvell, a former Michigan assistant attorney general, on Friday alleging that Shirvell stalked him, invaded his privacy and defamed him.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, alleges that Shirvell “developed a bizarre personal obsession with (Armstrong).” Armstrong is seeking damages in excess of $25,000 from Shirvell.

Deborah Gordon, Armstrong's attorney, said in an interview yesterday that the intent of the lawsuit is to have Shirvell retract false statements he has made about Armstrong.

“The complaint … is filled with line after line of direct blatant lies about Chris Armstrong,” Gordon said. “(Shirvell) refuses to retract his statements, much less apologize. So we can sit idly by or we can sue him, and we’ve made the decision to sue him.”

Several allegedly false statements made by Shirvell are listed in the lawsuit, including anti-homosexual and racist claims Shirvell made against Armstrong on his blog “Chris Armstrong Watch.” Shirvell started his blog last April and wrote on the website that Armstrong was pursuing a “radical homosexual agenda” in his role as MSA president. Armstrong, whose one-year term as MSA president ended earlier this week, was the first openly gay president of the assembly.

Shirvell also protested at several MSA meetings and outside of Armstrong’s house in Ann Arbor last year.

In a separate document also filed Friday, Gordon requested that the case be decided by a jury.

“It’s very important that this be tried in front of the jury and the community,” Gordon said in the interview yesterday. “We want the community’s opinion as represented by the jury.”

Philip Thomas, the attorney representing Shirvell in the case before the Attorney Grievance Commission, said in an interview yesterday that he isn’t representing Shirvell in the civil lawsuit.

“I don’t know if he could even afford an attorney,” Thomas said.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Gordon and Armstrong filed complaints with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission in an effort to force Shirvell to retract his statements against Armstrong and to have Shirvell disbarred.

Shirvell was fired from his post in the Attorney General’s office last November "for conduct unbecoming a state employee," former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox wrote in a statement at the time.

The incident became national news last fall when Shirvell, Armstrong and Cox appeared on separate occasions on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

Neither Armstrong nor Shirvell could be reached for comment yesterday.

Though Thomas isn’t representing Shirvell in the lawsuit, he said he has no doubts that Shirvell will be acquitted of wrongdoing.

“While I’m not going to be involved in the defense of Andrew regarding the civil lawsuit that Mr. Armstrong has filed, I’m very confident that when Andrew has his day in court regarding that matter he is going to prevail and that his free speech rights are going to be upheld,” Thomas said.

Thomas added that while Shirvell's actions may have been offensive to some, he believes Shirvell was well within his First Amendment rights.

"While individuals may be offended by things that Andrew said on his blog and in the signs that he would carry when he protested certain events over on campus, he had the right to be there, and he had the right to do that," Thomas said.

Shirvell was initially banned from the University's Ann Arbor campus in September by the University's Department of Public Safety. DPS altered the order on Nov. 5, allowing Shirvell on University property, but dictating that he can't be in the vicinity of Armstrong.

The University is currently reviewing its trespass warning policy. Initial recommendations have been made to modify the policy, but the Office of the General Counsel has not yet finalized its plans.