Attorney ordered to pay $4.5 million for attacks on gay student

ABC News
Attorney Andrew Shirvell Ordered to Pay 4.5 Million for Attacks on Gay Student
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Attorney Andrew Shirvell Ordered to Pay 4.5 Million for Attacks on Gay Student (ABC News)

A former assistant attorney general who refused to apologize to a gay student leader at the University of Michigan whom he defamed and harassed online and on campus must now pay him $4.5 million, a jury decided.

The "Chris Armstrong Watch" blog, created by former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, 32, accused openly gay University of Michigan ex-student body president Christopher Armstrong of enticing minors with alcohol and recruiting people to become homosexual.

The U.S. District Court jury Thursday awarded a $4.5 million civil settlement to Armstrong, 22, who said he suffered distress as a result of Shirvell's actions.

"I'm just incredibly humbled by what happened today," Armstrong said Thursday. "This is truly a victory, not just for myself, but for a lot of other kids out there."

Michigan alum Shirvell blogged that Armstrong, who graduated in 2011, was "a radical homosexual activist, racist, elitist and liar."

Deborah Gordon, the attorney representing Armstrong, said Shirvell also blogged that Armstrong participated in a number of sordid activities, including engaging in sex acts on a children's playground, inside a church and that he hosted orgies.

Shirvell would find out via Facebook about events Armstrong planned to attend in Ann Arbor, Mich., turn up and try to blend in with the crowd, Gordon said. He showed up at Armstrong's house several times and at one point called the police to report a party Armstrong was attending; he then blogged that "Ann Arbor police raided out of control gay party," she said.

Gordon told ABC News that she did not present the jury with anything on the blog that could be considered opinion, but showed the court that what Shirvell said was provable as false. She said Shirvell did not call a single witness during the trial, but "wrapped himself in the First Amendment."

Shirvell contested in court that all his statements were either true, or protected because of Armstrong's role as a public figure. He said that he plans to appeal, according to The Associated Press.

"This should have been thrown out," he said Thursday. "Juries give short shrift to First Amendment rights."

Gordon said Shirvell was told that the lawsuit would have been dropped if he had retracted his statements. She said that because the jury that heard the case is unable to make Shirvell issue an apology, the $4.5 million in damages would take its place.

"When we filed the case, we sent him a letter asking for retractions," Gordon said. "We sent a letter before the case was heard. The record needed to be set straight."

Shirvell, who was fired by former Attorney General Mike Cox after criticism of Armstrong in 2010, said he is unemployed, and that he has no means to pay such a sizable settlement, The AP reported.

"There's no way I could possibly ever pay such a judgment," he said after the ruling.

Shirvell, who represented himself, did not return calls from ABC News today.

Gordon said Armstrong has a job that resulted from an internship he had last year. She says she will continue to represent him, but that the possibility of allowing a retraction to settle the situation has passed.

"The jury has spoken. He had his chance to take responsibility and make this right, and give Chris his reputation back," she said.

"The jury did it. I don't need any retractions, nor am I asking. Absolutely not. He can just live with that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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