A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a former state of Michigan assistant attorney general against a past student body president at the University of Michigan. Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled Monday to dismiss the suit filed by Andrew Shirvell against Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay student body president at U-M.
Shirvell had claimed Armstrong bullied him and defamed him when Armstrong filed a lawsuit against Shirvell.
Armstrong’s lawsuit against Shirvell claims defamation and emotional damage. While working as an assistant state attorney general, Shirvell launched a blog in spring 2010 attacking Armstrong’s homosexuality and accusing Armstrong, among other things, of trying recruit students to a homosexual lifestyle.
Armstrong attorney Deborah Gordon said Shirvell also blamed Armstrong, who has since graduated from U-M, for Shirvell being fired from the state in November 2010. Shirvell, in a statement e-mailed to the Free Press today, said he believes the things he said about Armstrong were true and thus protected speech.
“At trial, I will provide overwhelming evidence that Armstrong was a public official/public figure at the time that the statements at issue were made,” his e-mail said. “We live in the United States. If I believe that Chris Armstrong is a radical homosexual activist, I have a constitutional right to express that opinion.”
The judge also ruled this week that Armstrong’s suit against Shirvell can continue. Scheduling for a jury trial is expected to take place this week.
Shirvell had argued Armstrong’s lawsuit should be thrown out because Shirvell was exercising his First Amendment rights. Gordon argued that because the statements were provably false, they should not be considered protected speech.
When then-Attorney General Mike Cox fired Shirvell, he said the speech was not protected by the First Amendment. Shirvell’s termination was recently upheld by the Michigan Civil Service Commission.
Shirvell also has filed suit against Gordon, saying she was responsible for his firing and defamed him. The judge threw out the claim that Gordon was responsible for his firing. Gordon has not yet asked the judge to rule on the defamation claim.
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