Jury: Shirvell must pay $4.5 million for defamation

Former University of Michigan student government president Chris Armstrong prevailed Aug. 16 in his federal defamation suit against former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, as the jury awarded Armstrong $4.5 million in damages.

Armstrong, who was represented by Bloomfield Hills civil attorney Deborah Gordon, claimed Shirvell inflicted intentional emotional harm on his blog in 2010, while Armstrong was in his senior year.

Shirvell attacked Armstrong for his “radical homosexual agenda,” calling Armstrong “Satan’s representative on the student assembly” and a “privileged pervert.” He also accused Armstrong of getting minors to drink alcohol and trying to recruit others to become homosexuals. [For a complete rundown of Shirvell’s acts, click here.]

The day before the verdict was reached, the Detroit Free Press reported that “Shirvell questioned himself on the witness stand for more than an hour Wednesday [Aug. 15], trying to convince the jury he was upset by Armstrong’s push for gender-neutral housing at U-M. Shirvell graduated in 2002.

“‘My blog was political speech,’ Shirvell testified. ‘I viewed my blog as a movement to get Mr. Armstrong to resign. I personally felt Mr. Armstrong was too radical for the position.’”

Gordon told The Michigan Daily that she doubts Shirvell’s plans to appeal the verdict will be realized.

“He’s not going to win his appeal. It’s just another waste of time just like this trial was. This should never have occurred, because he just should have retracted these statements a long time” ago, she said.

Former assistant AG Shirvell sues for defamation

Irony

a. a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.

b. (especially in contemporary writing) a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes,etc., especially as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.

Dictionary.com

Former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, whom you may remember as the guy who allegedly stalked, harassed and defamed a college student for being gay, has sued the college student and his attorney, Deborah Gordon, for running a smear campaign against him.

“As my complaint makes clear, I have uncovered a significant amount of information during the past year that shows that Deborah Gordon has deliberately set out to destroy me by any means necessary,” Shirvell said in a news release.

[Freep.com]

“(Armstrong and Gordon) are using me as a way to further their political agenda and their monetary agenda in the media at my expense,” Shirvell said in an interview yesterday. “So I want some justice, and I want Ms. Gordon to pay me damages for everything she has done to me.”

[The Michigan Daily]

“The one thing that they can’t take away from me is my dignity,” Shirvell said. “I didn’t commit wrong here. The wrongdoers here are Deborah Gordon and Chris Armstrong, and their impact on my life in the past year has been substantial.”

[Id]

Shirvell, of course, is the person who ran a blog called “Chris Armstrong Watch,” on which he published poorly photoshopped images of the blog’s eponymous college student with swastikas on his face. After initially defending Shirvell, then AG Mike Cox eventually fired him. Shirvell didn’t sue Cox for wrongful discharge, avoiding a shameful display of right-on-right crime. According to the Daily story, Shirvell was fired for lying during a disciplinary conference and for using the tools of his position for “non-work-related purposes.”

Shirvell said Gordon gave an investigator information about his previous harassment of a Michigan State student.2  Gordon denies ever talking to the investigator about Shirvell.

“(Shirvell) is by far his own worst enemy,” Gordon said. “He has created nothing but problems for himself. He lied about Chris Armstrong, and he apparently lied to the attorney general, and he lost his job. Now, the Attorney Grievance Commission is considering taking his law license away, and none of that is his fault, according to him.”

[Daily again]

1 Shirvell released an awful lot of information about the criminal records of Armstrong and his associates, information he wouldn’t have had except for his position with the AG’s office. I don’t know if that’s what was referred to, but it seems highly likely.

2 You mean there was another one? If it’s your dignity you’re concerned about, you should probably quit while you’re ahead, Shirvie!

U-M practice of banning citizens from campus faces scrutiny

When the hullabaloo erupted over Andrew Shirvell essentially stalked University of Michigan student president Chris Armstrong last year, one of the punishments Shirvell faced for his conduct was banishment from the campus.

Shirvell, a Michigan undergraduate alum, eventually was reinstated under the condition that he leave Armstrong alone after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened a lawsuit.

The banishment should have been more controversial in the news, and might have been if Shirvell’s conduct left any room for him to be even the slightest sympathetic figure. After all, aside from circumstantial evidence suggesting that he may have used his position at the Attorney General’s office to illegally review the criminal records of Armstrong and his associates, Shirvell didn’t do anything illegal. And last time I checked, U-M was a public university (Not for long if the Mackinac Center has anything to say about it!) banning citizens from public property without review.

The Detroit Free Press reported that over 2,000 people have been banned from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus over the last 10 years – far more than any public university in the state. Apparently, all that is required to be banned is a “trespass notice” by Department of Public Safety i.e. campus police. The officers issue the bans before any review is taken, so it’s up to the discretion of the department, rather than a judge or impartial authority. The DPS director does say bans can be reviewed by “the department’s civilian oversight committee, or up to the university president.”

The conduct of what receives a trespass notice is pretty broad. According to the story, a ban can be issued for “committing or being suspected of committing a crime on campus, refusing or failing to comply with university rules, disrupting the operation of the university or demonstrating a risk of physical harm or injury.”

For example, the Freep story said, if you are the chief operating officer of a company that makes “bioengineered medical devices” looking to meet up with one of your researchers, you’d better make an appointment first:

It was after hours on Oct. 14 when Deborah Buffington tried to enter an off-campus building leased by the University of Michigan to speak with a technician her company was working with on a study. She banged on the locked door.

The technician let her in, but the director of the program didn’t know her or the work she was doing there, according to Buffington. He asked her to leave. The next day, a University of Michigan police officer came to her office to discuss the incident and give her a trespass warning.

That’s how Buffington, chief operating officer of Innovative Biotherapies, an Ann Arbor company that develops bioengineered medical devices, became one of about 2,000 people issued trespass warnings since 2001, effectively banning her from the campus.

Buffington said she has no quibbles with U-M. She said the university has to look out for the safety of its community, and she believes it was miscommunication that led to the warning. “I completely understand why they did what they did,” said Buffington, who immediately appealed and on Oct. 29, the ban was modified to allow her on campus as long as she’s invited.

What crime Buffington was “being suspected of” is unclear. The employee let her in, the director said she couldn’t stay. She left. There’s no indication of misbehavior in the story.

This could simply be anecdotal. Later in the story, the Director of Public Safety said most bans are the result of criminal activity. But not all. In fact, in at least one instance, it was used against a former employee virtually moments after he was fired.

One of the more high-profile trespass warnings was issued in 2008 to Dr. Andrei Borisov, a 15-year employee of U-M who had been raising questions about how some grant money was being used in the pediatrics/cardiology department.

Following a meeting in which his superiors asked for his resignation, Borisov said he was escorted to his office by police officers who read a trespass warning to him and then arrested him when he attempted to take his briefcase. Borisov was acquitted of the charges he faced as a result of the incident, said his attorney, Deborah Gordon of Bloomfield Hills. He has subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against U-M, he said.

The ban from campus has since been modified, allowing Borisov back on campus, but not at the medical school.

Borisov described the trespass warning as “nonsense.”

“I was at my office legally as a faculty member and an employee of the University of Michigan,” Borisov said.

U-M officials declined to comment about Borisov’s case because of the lawsuit.

The story doesn’t say much about how the policy is being reviewed other than to say that is. Maybe the policy will change. Or maybe it’s the type of review that gets the ACLU off your case until it focuses on something else and nothing ever changes.

Southgate settles two lawsuits against court, judge

The City of Southgate settled a pair of employment lawsuits filed by former 28th District Court employees against the city alleging violations by Judge James Kandrevas.

One of the plaintiffs, former court administrator Lori Shemka, filed a whistleblower action alleging, among other things, comingling of funds and fraudulent representations in applying for federal stimulus money. She also alleged Judge James Kandrevas was using the court and court employees to collect donations for his charity, Achievers Club. [via The News Herald].

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed Aug. 11 in Wayne County Circuit Court by Lori Shemka, a former court administrator. In it, she alleged wrongful discharge, violation of the state Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and First Amendment violations.

Shemka, an attorney, worked at the court for about five months before she was fired.

She was hired Jan. 2 as court administrator, was appointed as a magistrate Feb. 4 and was fired May 15, but paid through June 1.

Shemka alleged in the lawsuit that she was fired for pointing out numerous improper and unethical financial practices at the court.

A separate work program bank account was set up without approval from the city, which is the court’s funding unit, and the account contained about $200,000.

Another allegation was that there was fraudulent representation by the court to the state and federal governments in a drug court grant application seeking funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

According to the story, Shemka’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, said Kandrevas asserted his Fifth Amendment rights 222 times during his deposition.

During Kandrevas’ deposition for the lawsuit, Gordon said she was shocked by Kandrevas’ “less than forthcoming” manner.

She said he invoked the Fifth Amendment provision against self-incrimination many times during the three-day questioning period, or said he didn’t remember when asked a question.

“When he took the Fifth Amendment 222 times, it was just ‘wow,’” Gordon said.
“I was really surprised by how unable he was to remember key facts and tried to distance himself from having knowledge or a role.

“I was shocked by how often he told me he had a bad memory; I get that from a lot of other people, but I don’t expect that from a judge.

In the other case, plaintiff Mary Dupuis-Jarbo claimed breach of contract.

Dupuie-Jarbo said in her lawsuit that she had a verbal agreement with Kandrevas for a promotion that she was denied twice in favor of people Kandrevas knew. She later was laid off.

Dupuie-Jarbo began working in the court’s work program in January 2005 as a part-time supervisor. She also assisted with the drug court program and was cross-trained in other jobs pending a potential full-time position.

Dupuie-Jarbo said she was pursuing a General Educational Development certificate based on a verbal promise from Kandrevas that she would be eligible for full-time work with benefits once she earned the certificate.
In deposition transcripts, Kandrevas denied promising her a promotion.

After Jarbo earned her GED, she was passed over twice in favor of people Kandrevas knew, including a man who was a convicted felon. Kandrevas said Jarbo was let go because of budgetary constraints.

There was also an allegation of a strange incident on Election Day 2008, when Kandrevas defeated Bill Colovos.

According to a police report, Peter Jarbo was approached at the civic center polling station by Patricia Kandrevas, and she asked who he was going to vote for. When he said that it was none of her business, she allegedly hit him on his head with a yardstick.

In the report he filed with the Police Department, Jarbo said he was afraid of filing it because his mother worked for the court and he feared she could lose her job.

Gordon said she believed Kandrevas pressured public officials to drop or delay handling the complaint.

“He decided to file a police report and they interviewed the people that were there with the judge’s wife and never even tried to talk to the judge’s wife,” Gordon said.

She said during the deposition that officers said they never interviewed Patricia Kandrevas. Judge Kandrevas also said they didn’t.

The story said the police could find no evidence of the incident in the surveillance video and two witnesses didn’t corroborate the son’s story.

According to city attorney Edward Zelenak, both women’s claims are “great works of fiction” but the city chose to save money by settling rather than dragging out litigation.

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