Assistant AG Has Vendetta Against College Student

Sometimes, we get to report inspirational stories about ordinary people who rise up to fight against seemingly insurmountable opposition and succeed.

This is not one of those stories.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite: what happens when a person who rises to a prestigious position become obsessed with someone far below them that it exposes what a sad and pathetic person they are. Like when an assistant attorney general makes it his duty to take down a college student body president.

As The Detroit News reported today, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox rebuked assistant AG Andrew Shirvell for statements made on his blog against University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong. (Long story short: Shirvell doesn’t like Armstrong because he’s gay.)

“All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours,” Cox said in a statement issued Wednesday. “But (Andrew) Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

The name of Shirvell’s blog? Chris Armstrong Watch. Yes, an assistant attorney general, one of the state’s top prosecutors, has started a blog solely for the purpose of attacking a college student. A grown man, going after a college student. No one says he doesn’t have the right to do it, but that makes it no less sad and pathetic.

Sample posting:

BOMBSHELL: Ann Arbor Police Raid Chris Armstrong’s Out-of-Control ‘Gay Rush’ Welcome Week Party

Summary: A house full of college students had a party that went late (after 1 am) and the police were called because it was late, loud and the students were hanging outside in the yards. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS! EVER!

I wonder how the police were tipped off to this mayhem. Could have been the same guy who was aghast that the party was even planned to begin with:

OUTRAGE ALERT: Armstrong Invites U of M Freshmen to Join the Homosexual Lifestyle

And probably the same guy who just so happened to be present to take a video of the police arrival? You know, the guy whose YouTube handle is “AntiArmstrong.” (Just one video posted. Ever.) I don’t know whose page that is but I’d bet money his initials are “A.S.”

Shirvell was disappointed to report in the post that “it’s not clear whether the police issued any minor in possession (MIP) citations…” Because the police often go to parties with rampant mayhem and don’t even issue MIP citations.

He actually resorts to Facebook-stalking Armstrong and his friends comments, posting screenshots of each. (What’s interesting is that, for most Facebook pages, you cannot see a person’s postings without friending them. Yet Shirvell has screenshots of Armstrong’s and several of his friends’ pages as evidence. Could it be that Shirvell has resorted to making a fake Facebook page in order to spy on college students? I sure hope not.)

And it’s rampant Facebook-stalking. One thing is certain: that he knows way too much about the goings on of Armstrong and his friends. Such as:

Fresh off a three-week European vacation, MSA Business Representative Serwer, pictured above with police, was asked to produce identification, which he eventually complied with only after he went back inside the house to find it.

OMG! Serwer DIDN’T HAVE HIS ID ON HIM! Someone ready the electric chair. He also knows that Armstrong attended last weekend’s Lady Gaga concert.

He outs as homosexuals other people with whom Armstrong is associated, armed with photographic evidence of a hug between the two which, “in a light more favorable to the nonmoving party” appears to be a joke of sorts.

He even trashes the parenting of  the mother of one of Armstrong’s friends for *gasp* taking her of-age son to Soaring Eagle Casino! He also discovered a fact that certainly must result in the mother’s parental rights being terminated: she makes a joke about her son having a fake ID!

The situation should put Cox into a tizzy. While he’s issued a “rebuke,” the AG’s office has said it will not comment further. This is pretty sad for an office that lauds its fight against cyberbullying. From the AG’s offices own document, titled “A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying”:

A cyberbully is someone who uses technology to harass, embarrass, intimidate, or stalk someone else.

The methods a cyberbully could use to harass the victim include the following:

• posting of secrets or embarrassing information, including pictures, for everyone to see

• posting of gossip or rumors for the explicit purpose of damaging the person’s reputation

• distribution of messages pretending to be the victim in an attempt to damage that person’s friendships

• alienation of the victim from online groups.

And I’d say this is a pretty textbook example.

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In re: Freedom of speech in public schools and cyber-bullying

I’m almost ashamed to admit this,* but when I was a senior in high school, I was suspended for cursing.

I’m sure that you can relate: I was working on a class project, receiving little or no help from many in my group. As I was trying to do put the finishing touches on it, someone came in and started giving opinions about how I should have done it and why their way was better.

Being an emotionally immature 16-year old who was already annoyed with the lack of support I received on the project, I responded with a two-word phrase commonly heard on shows like The Sopranos. The teacher walked in just in time to hear it, yada yada yada, I had an unscheduled three-day vacation.

Why should you care, Reader of Michigan Lawyers Weekly?

Well, apparently I should have hired a lawyer (from The Detroit News):

Hart took the problem to the school’s vice principal and principal, who took it to a district administrator, who asked the district’s lawyers what they could do about it. In the end, citing "cyber-bullying" concerns, school officials suspended the girl who posted the video for two days. That student took the case to federal court, saying her free speech rights were violated.

Last month, a U.S. District judge in Los Angeles sided with the student, saying the school went too far.

In that case, a student** posted a video on YouTube calling another female middle school student a “brat” and “slut” and, of course, texted everyone they knew about it. The girl’s embarrassment led her to her guidance counselor’s office, which led to a chain of events in which the offender who posted the video was suspended.

Judge Steven V. Wilson wrote:

"To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul (of the law)," judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in a 60-page opinion.

"The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments," he wrote.

“Cyber-bullying” has become a big issue of late as members of Congress and state legislatures are trying to make laws to regulate the effects of when the mean things kids say are amplified to a mass audience online.

In some cases, the subject hasn’t even been a student.

In Pennsylvania, a student sued his school district after he was suspended for 10 days and placed in an alternative education program for creating what he claimed was a parody MySpace profile of the school principal. On the Web site, the student referred to the principal as a "big steroid freak," and a "big whore," among other things, and stated that he was "too drunk to remember" the date of his birthday.

District Court Judge Terrence McVerry found that even though the profile was unquestionably "lewd, profane and sexually inappropriate," the school did not have the right to restrict the student’s speech because school officials were not able to establish that the profile caused enough of a disruption on campus.

"The mere fact that the Internet may be accessed at school does not authorize school officials to become censors of the world-wide web," he wrote.

That case is pending in the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

And another one in Florida:

In Florida, the ACLU sued a principal on behalf of a student who was suspended and removed from her honors class for "cyber-bullying." Katie Evans had created a Facebook page criticizing an English teacher as "the worst teacher I’ve ever met," and invited others to express their "feelings of hatred."

Her attorney, Matthew Bavaro, said the reach of the Web was irrelevant to whether a student is allowed to express themselves freely.

"The audience, whether it’s one person or 1 billion people, doesn’t change that Katie still had a First Amendment right," Bavaro said.

Opinions from courts and law professors seems to be unanimous:

Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert and law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has criticized a bill in Congress that would make cyber bullying punishable by as long as two years in prison [said,] "People don’t appreciate how much the First Amendment protects not only political and ideological speech, but also personal nastiness and chatter. … If all cruel teasing led to suicide, the human race would be extinct."

* “Ashamed” probably isn’t the right word. It’s not like I have sleepless nights about it.

** You probably won’t be surprised to find out that the case arises from Beverly Hills, California and that the attorney for the student who posted the video is her father. The girl was awarded $1 in damages and the suspension removed from her record.