Last Updated: November 08. 2010 4:42PM
Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
An assistant Michigan attorney general who caused a national stir by waging a campaign against the University of Michigan’s openly gay student president was fired today.
Andrew Shirvell, who kept a critical blog and picketed against Chris Armstrong, was told he is fired today in a brief meeting in Lansing.
“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,” Attorney General Mike Cox said in a statement issued by his office today. “Ultimately, Mr. Shirvell’s conduct has brought his termination from state service.”
Shirvell is considering a civil service appeal of his termination or lawsuit for wrongful discharge, according to his lawyer Philip Thomas.
“I feel terrible for Andrew,” Thomas said. “He has worked at that agency approximately four years. He has gotten excellent ratings and reviews each of his four years. His supervisors were aware of the blog as early as April or May, not that they condoned the content of it or that they condemned it. I just feel my client’s constitutional First Amendment rights were in play here. Attorney General Mike Cox at first said the same thing and now, all of a sudden this happens.”
Shirvell, 30 and a U-M alum, created a blog last spring to launch a crusade against the 21-year-old student assembly president he called, “a radical homosexual activist, racist, elitist and liar.”
Armstrong has said Shirvell contacted his friends, showed up at his public appearances and insulted his family and friends on the blog. Shirvell was briefly banned from the Ann Arbor campus on harassment claims, but the order was lifted earlier this week by the university.
Shirvell’s campaign attracted national attention when Shirvell appeared last month after giving an interview to CNN news personality Anderson Cooper. Shirvell took a personal leave of absence after appearing on the national broadcast. Last week, Comedy Central’s news parody “The Daily Show” aired a lampooned interview that Shirvell’s lawyer said he also gave near the end of September.
Armstrong’s lawyer, who has said has asked the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission to disbar Shirvell, said today Cox made the right decision.
“The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Chris Armstrong, his family and the others Mr. Shirvell has slandered,” said Deborah Gordon. “It is past time for Shirvell to recognize that there are consequences for his reckless, outrageous statements and actions and that he is solely responsible for those consequences.”
Shirvell had returned to work last week, and immediate attended a four-hour civil service discipline hearing where his lawyer presented documents that he felt showed Shirvell’s actions and comments were protected by his constitutional right of free expression. Thomas also argued that none of Shirvell’s comments or opinions was made on state-paid time or with state computers.
Cox last week placed Shirvell on paid leave and ordered him to return for the continuation of the hearing on Tuesday. Thomas said the hearing was moved without explanation to this morning.
“I traveled two hours to find a room filled with the same administrators and human resources people, but their minds had been made up,” Thomas said. “I can only imagine the political machinations that happened between last week and now, but I feel my client has been wronged.”
In a statement released by his office, Cox said Shirvell was fired for conduct unbecoming a state employee, especially that of an assistant attorney general.
“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. “However, Mr. Shirvell repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior, and inappropriately used state resources, our investigation showed.”
Cox listed examples: Cox claims Shirvell went to the home of a private citizen on three separate occasions, 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,” according to the Attorney General’s statement.
Cox said Shirvell engaged in behavior that, while not perhaps sufficient to charge criminal stalking, was harassing, uninvited and showed a pattern that was in the everyday sense, stalking. He said his investigation concluded: Shirvell harassed Armstrong’s friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor; Shirvell made numerous calls to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office — Armstrong’s employer on an internship in Washington, D.C. — in an attempt to slander Armstrong, and ultimately cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong; and attempting to “out” Armstrong’s friends as homosexual, several of whom were not gay.
Cox said it was clear to him that Shirvell conducted his campaign against Armstrong on company time, calling Pelosi’s office while at work, during working hours. And, Cox said, Shirvell posted attacks on Armstrong on the Internet while at work. Cox said Shirvell lied during his disciplinary hearing.