The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a defamation lawsuit Monday against Andrew Shirvell, former state assistant attorney general, over his harassment of a University student.

Shirvell was accused of anti-gay rhetoric against University alum Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay Michigan Student Assembly president. The Michigan Student Assembly is now known as Central Student Government.

In 2010, Shirvell was fired after creating a blog titled “Chris Armstrong Watch,” which argued Armstrong was promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.” Mike Cox, Michigan’s attorney general at the time, wrote that the firing was not due to his exercising of his First Amendment rights, but for his “harassing conduct.”

In 2011, Armstrong sued Shirvell for defamation. A year later, Armstrong won the case, which ordered that Shirvell pay him $4.5 million in damages.

Shirvell appealed the decision shortly thereafter.

In the decision released Monday, the Sixth Circuit Court upheld the charges brought against Shirvell, but removed damages awarded for false light invasion of privacy — which consists of publishing information that casts another person in a false light — because the court found that the jury in the original case used the same statements as the basis for both the false light charge and another charge.

This reduced the total sum of the sanctions against Shirvell to $3.5 million.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Armstrong’s attorney Deborah Gordon applauded the decision. She said based on Shirvell’s current financial state, she wasn’t sure if the full judgement would be recovered, but that the symbolic value of the ruling was also important.

“Andrew Shirvell is unemployed, and as far as I know, he doesn’t have any assets,” she said. “So the odds of Chris Armstrong ever collecting the $3.5 million — not good, in my opinion. However, the judgement is priceless. Because that was the jury speaking, and the jury represents our community. Chris did this because he had no alternative. Shirvell would not retract the disgusting lies he told about Chris. He took them to national T.V. So we had to turn to the jury system and the courts to clear Chris’s name, which has now happened.”

She said she wouldn’t be surprised if Shirvell chose to appeal, but added that she didn’t think it was realistic.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Shirvell said he had no comment at the moment on the ruling. In a 2012 interview following the initial district court ruling, however, he hinted to the prospect of a Supreme Court appeal.

”(The case) will for sure be overturned on appeal either at the sixth circuit (court) in Cincinnati, or eventually at the U.S. Supreme Court — it may be a landmark First Amendment case,” Shirvell said at the time.

The ruling also touched on the appeal of a federal court’s decision last year to dismiss a counter-suit filed by Shirvell against Gordon. The counter-suit alleged that she had worked with the attorney general’s office to fire him.

Authoring the opinion for the court, Federal Judge Julia Gibbons wrote that the appeal was frivolous, and also warned Shirvell against pursuing further litigation in that direction.

“As time went on, it became increasingly clear that (Shirvell’s) claims amounted to nothing more than speculation,” the opinion stated. “His failure to withdraw the allegations violated Shirvell’s continuing duty of candor.”

In January of this year, in a separate case on the same incidents, the Michigan Court of Appeals also ruled against Shirvell, stating that he was not entitled to unemployment benefits after his termination. That ruling overturned a previous 2012 ruling by the Ingham County Circuit Court which said that the state could fire him, and he was entitled to the benefits.

At the time, Shirvell said in a statement that he would appeal that ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Gordon said should the appeal occur, Monday’s decision could have an impact on that case as well.

“I think that it’ll be important, as a matter of examining the law, that the Sixth Circuit court of Appeals has found that he violated the law,” Gordon said. “This whole idea of whether he should get unemployment benefits or get his job back, in part it’s going to turn on did you do anything illegal? Then it’s kind of a done deal because you’re not entitled to unemployment.”

Clarification appended: This article has been updated to clarify the quote from Judge Gibbons; it referred to a counter-suit filed by Shirvell against Gordon, not the appeal of the defamation lawsuit filed by Armstrong.

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