Andrew Shirvell, a former Michigan assistant attorney general, received disappointing news today when U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow issued an order to move forward with the trial for a lawsuit filed by former student body president Chris Armstrong — the ﬁrst openly gay president of the Michigan Student Assembly, now called the Central Student Government — against Shirvell.
Shirvell had filed a motion to dismiss Armstrong’s case against him, which claimed the statements he made about Armstrong on the blog he created in 2010 called “Chris Armstrong Watch” were protected by free speech. In addition to moving Armstrong’s case to trial, the judge ruled to throw out the counter lawsuit Shirvell ﬁled against Armstrong. Shirvell also previously ﬁled a separate lawsuit against Armstrong’s lawyer Deborah Gordon which included a tortious interference claim Tarnow dismissed.
Though the judge’s orders were released today, the actual ruling of various motions at hand were given at a hearing last Monday, at which both parties had the opportunity to argue their side before the judge.
The judge’s orders come just weeks after Shirvell’s termination from his position with the Michigan Attorney General’s office was conﬁrmed by William Hutchens, a hearing officer at the Michigan Civil Service Commission.
Shirvell said despite the setback, he plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
“I think it’s obviously the wrong decision and I will appeal it at the appropriate time,” Shirvell said. “I’m confident that those claims that I have against Mr. Armstrong will ultimately be reinstated against him and that we’ll have a future trial on that.”
Shirvell’s blog did not initially identify Shirvell as assistant attorney general — the information came out in an article previously published by The Michigan Daily.
Shirvell claims his statements from the blog are protected by the first amendment.
“I’m confident that at the jury trial, that I will be presenting overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that my statements on the blog were constitutionally protected,” Shirvell said. “There’s no way that a trial of facts or jury could find that it’s provable as false that Mr. Armstrong is a radical activist or something similar. Those are just clearly constitutionally protected things.”
Shirvell said it was unfair that the judge chose to throw out his case, but didn’t question comments made by Armstrong.
“The judge ruled that what Armstrong said was constitutionally protected because it was his opinion that I was stalking him and that I was a bully,” Shirvell said.
Shirvell explained he believes if Armstrong’s statements were ruled as constitutionally protected, then his blog posts should be ruled as such.
“Regardless of what (the judge) did, I will go onto the next steps and I will do what it takes to defeat Mr. Armstrong’s baseless lawsuit,” Shirvell said.
Gordon said the judge made the right decision.
“We feel obviously that the correct thing happened,” Gordon said. “(Shirvell’s) counter claim against Chris that he ﬁled against Chris after we sued him has no legal merit. His claim against me has no legal merit.”
Gordon added that Shirvell’s statements are not constitutionally protected because some were blatant lies. She said statements are not constitutionally protected in a court of law if they are “provable as false,” which she claims is the case for Shirvell’s comments about Armstrong.
According to Gordon, Shirvell made claims on his blog that Armstrong hates minority students and that he tried to convert freshman to the homosexual lifestyle.
“I can prove those statements are false,” Gordon said.
She added that it has been Shirvell’s strategy to use first amendment as a buffer.
“I think Shirvell has thought all along that he could cover himself, wrap himself in the first amendment and say this is all first amendment protected free speech and the courts did not agree with that,” Gordon said. “There’s a difference between free speech and defamation when you lie about somebody.”
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the initial source to identify Andrew Shirvell as an assistant attorney general.