A hearing officer with the Michigan Civil Service Commission has upheld the firing of former Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell as a result of his campaign against former University of Michigan student body President Chris Armstrong.If you're just joining us, or need a refresher, pretty much all you need to do to get up to speed is watch the Anderson Cooper interview above. You'll see that what scary, deranged individual Andrew Shirvell is, and the extreme lengths he went to to stalk and harass of University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong.
In issuing the decision, hearing officer William Hutchens wrote that Shirvell was found to “have engaged in harassing conduct of the basest sort.”
Shirvell's lawyer, Philip J. Thomas, vowed to appeal and called the ruling "deeply flawed," saying that Shirvell was simply exercising his constitutional right to free speech outside of work.
as seen on Shirvell's "Chris Armstrong Watch" blog
Shirvell was a eventually fired, this is the resolution of his effort to contest that dismissal as unlawful. The hearing officer's findings are a searing indictment against his case.
“The fact that the grievant made a media spectacle of himself and the department for which he worked without regard for the interests of his employer constitutes conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Hutchens wrote.
Shirvell tried to claim his objection to Armstrong stemmed from Armstrong's alleged broken promise not to join some student body group known as the Order of Angell. The presiding hearing officer did not buy that one bit. From hearing officer William Hutchens' opinion (PDF) (emphasis mine):
It is clear from this record, however, that they actual basis for the appalling acts of harassment directed at Armstrong and his acquaintances by the grievant, however was their homosexuality. It is clear that the Order of Angell issue, while it may have been some concern to the grievant, was used as a pretext in an effort to couch the most vile hate speech in a constitutionally protected form. All one needs to do is read the "blog," article after article, to realize that the dominant theme is Armstrong's "disgusting" or "peverted" lifestyle.I'm glad they found a legal justification to not just excuse Shirvell's behavior as though stalking and harassment was just a run of the mill exercise of free speech.
The sexual orientation of an individual is a matter of Civil Service rules. That protection applies not only to state employees, but also to the general public when it prohibits an appointing authority from engaging in such discrimination in the hiring or recruitment process. The conduct of the grievant in creating a media circus around the hate speech against homosexuals in his "blog" could well impact the ability of the DAG to recruit and hire otherwise qualified individuals if they felt that their orientation might be an issue with an agency that continued to employ such a truculent, intolerant individual. The focus of the "blog" posting by this grievant are determined to have been motivated by the grievant's obsession with the sexual orientation of Chris Armstrong and the fact that Armstrong had been elected by the student body to be their leader their student government. For reasons known only to himself, the grievant could not bear the thought of Armstrong being elected to such a position. He therefore began Chris Armstrong Watch, he began to peruse the Facebook postings of Armstrong and his friends, sometimes from work, and as the time went on, his behavior seemed to become more bizarre. As former Attorney General Cox testified at the hearing, it was clear to him that the conduct of the grievant as outlined to him in the Executive Summary (Joint Exhibit #4) was of an "escalating" nature. Therefore, when the investigation was complete, the disciplinary conference was held, and it was recommended that the approved dismissal as the appropriate penalty, he concurred with that assessment.
It's one of the times common sense squares with judicial sense, thankfully.
If Shirvell had mounted a campaign of stalking a woman, clearly based on the belief the "fairer sex" was unfit to lead his alma mater's student body, I really don't think we'd even be entertaining whether he should have been dismissed or not.
If Shirvell had mounted a campaign against an African American, a Jew, a Muslim or any other racial or religious minority, again, because he felt that their ascension to leadership brought shame to his alma mater, no one would have exercised caution about how to proceed and few if anyone would have defended Shirvell's first amendment rights.
It was precisely because Armstrong was "merely" harassing a sexual minority that serious people entertained the idea that there was a reasonable First Amendment defense here. A pity that Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox could not have moved more swiftly in dispatching this disturbed individual from his staff.
AG Cox defends Shirvell on Anderson Cooper 360
Don't let former Attorney General Mike Cox's testimony in the hearing mislead you into thinking he was some sort of hero. He likely only concurred with the opinion because it had become politically untenable for him to do otherwise. It was only when push came to shove, via national spotlight that Cox seriously engaged the problem. In fact, Cox turned a blind on on Shirvell's behavior for many months, and Cox even appeared on the Anderson Cooper show after Shirvell's disastrous appearance to defend Shirvell's right to stalk and harass Armstrong as a component of his free speech.
The situation was allowed to escalated and went on a very long time. Hearing officer William Hutchens makes notice that Shirvell was advised and counseled his actions were unbecoming of an Asst. AG, but reasons employees are not required to follow advice and counsel. Hutchens does acknowledge that employees are required to follow directives, which Shrivell never received. Attorney General Cox's office was not firm with Shirvell, never telling him explicitly to stop his stalking and harassment of Armstrong, even after Armstrong obtained a restraining order. Court documents make clear Cox's office was made aware ahead of time of Shirvell's intention to appear on the Anderson Cooper show and did not forbid it. Of course, it was exactly that national spotlight that ultimately led to Shirvell finally being dismissed.
And the ruling acknowledges that Shirvell's appearances on Anderson Cooper show and later Comedy Central's The Daily Show created, in the court's words, "a media circus" that inhibited the effective functioning of the Attorney General's office. (In the The Daily Show interview Shirvell decried his own victimhood and condemned Armstrong as a "gay Nazi.")
The fact is the Attorney General's office's refusal to appropriately discipline Shirvell for so long is exactly what the allowed the media to create a "circus." The burning question all reports lead with was the common sense conclusion of, "Why does this guy still have a job?"
Court findings show the AG Cox's office first became aware of Shirvell's behavior in Feb. 2010, It was only after Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ reported this story in Sept. 15, that Cox's office began to take it seriously.
Cox moved fast once the media spotlight focused, Shirvell appeared on Anderson Cooper in Sept. 28, 2010. He was suspended on Nov. 8, 2010.
According to the court documents eventually the AG's office had received over 22,000 phone calls, emails and letters about Shirvell's conduct.
If 22,000 people could see so clearly how out of line Shirvell's behavior was, why could AG Cox not see it for so very long?
Cox's boss at the time, Gov. Jennifer Granholm even called out Cox on Twitter:
If I was still Attorney General and Andrew Shirvell worked for me, he would have already been fired.— Jennifer Granholm (@JenGranholm) September 30, 2010
Chris Armstrong has since graduated and is probably enjoying a lower profile, far away from Andrew Shirvell. He also set up a scholarship fund to help bullied teens attend college.
This ruling is both a vindication for Armstrong, but also an indictment of AG Cox's miserable failure to show leadership, protect all citizens of Michigan or even understand the laws in the state where he served as Attorney General.