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Assistant state AG accused of harassing gay student fired from post

By Associated Press
Monday, November 8, 2010 20:58 EDT
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An assistant state attorney general accused of harassing the gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan was fired Monday.

Andrew Shirvell, 30, went on leave about a month ago after national criticism erupted over a blog he wrote characterizing student leader Chris Armstrong as a “racist” and a “liar” who promoted a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Shirvell’s attorney has said his actions were constitutionally protected as free speech. Shirvell had attended the first day of a disciplinary hearing Friday and expected that hearing to continue later this week, but then was called in and fired.

Cox said the firing came after a state investigation revealed that Shirvell “repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources.”

“To be clear, I refuse to fire anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights, regardless of how popular or unpopular their positions might be,” Cox said in a statement.

But he said Shirvell’s conduct went beyond free speech when he showed up three separate times outside Armstrong’s Ann Arbor home, including once at 1:30 a.m.

“That incident is especially telling because it clearly was about harassing Mr. Armstrong, not engaging in free speech,” Cox said.

Armstrong, 21, has accused Shirvell of videotaping a late-night party at his off-campus house, showing up at campus appearances with a sign that read “racist” and “liar,” and lambasting him on his blog. Armstrong had filed for a personal protection order against Shirvell but withdrew that request late last month.

His lawyer applauded the decision and said the state should go further and revoke Shirvell’s law license.

“This clearly is the correct decision by the attorney general’s office,” Deborah L. Gordon said in a statement. “The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Mr. Armstrong, his family and others Mr. Shirvell has slandered.”

Shirvell’s lawyer, Philip Thomas, said his client has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision to the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

“It was very obvious something political had occurred, and I couldn’t imagine what that would be,” Thomas said.

Cox said the investigation found that Shirvell harassed Armstrong’s friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor and made numerous calls to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office while Armstrong was working there as an intern “in an attempt to slander Armstrong — and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong,” Cox said. He added that Shirvell attempted to “out” Armstrong’s friends as being homosexual, even though several weren’t gay.

The investigation revealed that while at work during normal business hours, Shirvell called Pelosi’s office and posted attacks on Armstrong on the Internet. He also lied to investigating assistant attorneys general on several occasions during Friday’s disciplinary hearing, Cox said.

“The cumulative effects of his use of state resources, harassing conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment and his lies during the disciplinary conference all demonstrate adequate evidence of conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Cox said.

Shirvell, one of about 250 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, handled cases in which convictions are appealed in federal court, writing defenses for the state. It was not a management or supervisory position.

The 2002 University of Michigan graduate is allowed on university’s Ann Arbor campus but with restrictions. He’s not allowed to make physical or verbal contact with Armstrong nor can he be in the same place as the student when it’s likely Armstrong will be present.

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Associated Press writer Kathy Barks Hoffman contributed to this report.

This video is from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, published to the web on Nov. 1, 2010.

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