A Lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Former Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvel found this out the hard way when a Detroit Federal jury recently awarded a gay University of Michigan student body president $4.5 million in his lawsuit against a former Michigan assistant attorney general who posted about him in his personal anti-gay blog and social media posts.
Electing a jury trial rather than simply apologizing, the jury ruled in favor of Christopher Armstrong, who claimed he suffered emotional distress and bullying as a result of the public anti gay rants of this inexperienced lawyer.
“I’m just incredibly humbled by what happened today,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “This is truly a victory – not just for myself, but for a lot of other kids out there.”
The hapless Defendant in this case, Shirvell, based his defense on his First Amendment right of free speech. He was only a lawyer for one year, perhaps he didn’t remember the bedrock thrust of the First Amendment. It protects us from our Government, not necessarily libel/slander of each other. I cite the First Amendment, which is remarkable in its clarity:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Shirvell was accused of defamation as well as emotional distress for his actions on the blog, in Facebook posts and during visits to the Ann Arbor campus.The Attorney General Mike Cox fired Shirvell in 2010 after he criticized Armstrong, who graduated last year. Shirvel, in addition to being homophobic is no legal eagle. This judgement sent out a message, I applaud the verdict. The jury has spoken.
According to the Huffington Post “Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, had said she would drop the lawsuit if Shirvell apologized and retracted his comments. Shirvell said that was disingenuous, since it wasn’t until closing arguments that a multimillion-dollar award was brought up.
Shirvell said he’s unemployed and “there’s no way I could possibly ever pay such a judgment.”
Gordon said the jury couldn’t make him apologize, so the money was the only answer.
“We needed him to retract the flat-out fabrications he had come up with about Chris,” she said. “Once he refused to take responsibility, we put it in the hands of the jury.”
This case illustrates the correct application of the First Amendment. Read it carefully, it protects us from the Government not from each other. Co-exist.