Friday, October 01, 2010

Michigan Assistant AG Banned from college campus - Student Obtains Protection Order

From Detroit Free Press Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell has been banned from the University of Michigan campus, and the student leader he’s been attacking via a blog has filed a personal protection order against him.Meanwhile, the U-M administration issued a statement today supporting Chris Armstrong, the president of the Michigan Student Assembly and target of Shirvell’s blog, saying U-M “does not tolerate bigotry of any type.”
Shirvell was issued the trespass warning Sept. 14, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the U-M Police.
“He can’t come onto any campus property,” Brown said.
Brown, asked why the trespass order was issued, said U-M police had received a complaint "about him being a possible suspect in harassing or stalking behavior."
Shirvell is appealing the order.
Shirvell has gained national scrutiny because of a blog, called Chris Armstrong Watch, in which he attacks Armstrong, the first openly gay president of the MSA. On the blog, he accuses Armstrong of promoting a radical homosexual agenda and calls him a racist. The blog is now private and open only to invited members.
Armstrong fired back in the personal protection order filed two weeks ago. The order, posted on today, says since being elected to the student leadership post in the spring, Shirvell has attacked him verbally at campus events, called the office where Armstrong was doing a summer internship in D.C. and complained about him, followed Armstrong’s friends to events hoping to find Armstrong, and protested and took pictures outside Armstrong’s home. One of his friends felt threatened by a conversation with Shirvell after.
On more than one occasion, police were called when Shirvell protested at Armstrong’s home.
In the filing, Armstrong says Shirvell’s actions “have been incredibly distressing,” and “make me feel unsure about my own safety.” He said he came to U-M knowing it was a safe and encouraging place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
“His actions have not only threatened that, but have been an outright attack on my ability to live my life openly and be honest about who I am,” Armstrong wrote.
Many have called on Attorney General Mike Cox to fire Shirvell. In mid-September, he issued a statement in which he said that while all state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours “Mr. Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”
Shirvell helped manage Cox's 2006 re-election campaign.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm entered the debate via her official Twitter account this afternoon. She said, “If I was still Attorney General and Andrew Shirvell worked for me, he would have already been fired.”
In a series of rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has set limits on the First Amendment rights of government employees.
“When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court in 2006. “Government employers, like private employers, need a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions; without it, there would be little chance for the efficient provision of public services.”
In that case, the high court ruled, 5-4, that a Los Angeles deputy district attorney was legally disciplined for statements he had made as part of his “official duties.”
Public servants generally get more leeway for comments they make as private citizens, which is what Shirvell has insisted he has been doing in his attacks on Armstrong.
But even that protection is not absolute, the Supreme Court has said. Government workers have greater rights when they comment on “a matter of public concern,” or when their comments do not affect their employers’ operations.
Brown, the U-M police spokeswoman, wouldn’t comment on how or where Shirvell was issued the trespass warning. While banning someone from campus isn’t an uncommon occurrence, the situation surrounding Shirvell, who is a U-M alum, is unique.
“This is indeed an unusual situation,” Brown said.
U-M police have been meeting with members of the MSA, addressing any concerns they have about their own personal safety. Police also have attended recent meetings of the MSA, which has full-assembly meetings weekly.
“We have been to some events that have been held just to be sure everything’s OK,” Brown said.