Another Lying Blogger Hit with $4.5 Million Defamation Verdict

Posted August 18, 2012 in Internet Law by

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A student won a $4.5 million civil lawsuit against a former state attorney who defamed him online, followed him and his friends and showed up at his home several times.

Back in 2010, after Chris Armstrong became the first openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan, a website called “Chris Armstrong Watch” popped up online.

It turns out Andrew Shirvell, a state assistant attorney general and University of Michigan alum, had a problem with Armstrong and started the website, which called the student body president a Nazi, racist, liar, “Satan’s representative on the student council,” a “privileged pervert” and accused him of engaging in sexual acts in churches and playgrounds, giving alcohol to minors, and promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Two Anderson Cooper interviews later, Shirvell was fired from his job as a lawyer for the state.

Armstrong sued Shirvell for defamation and stalking, alleging that in addition to the website, Shirvell contacted his friends, showed up at his public appearances by tracking him on Facebook and protested outside his home. One time, he called the cops to report a party Armstrong was attending and then blogged that police “raided an out of control gay party.”

At trial, Shirvell acted as his own lawyer, questioning himself on the stand for over an hour. He testified that he was merely protesting Armstrong’s position on gender-neutral campus housing and that the blog was an exercise of his free speech under the First Amendment.

Attorney Deborah Gordon

“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.”

But Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, showed that the blog put out not just opinion, but facts that were untrue and therefore did not have First Amendment protection. She argued that the 32-year-old man was “obsessed” with her client.

Shirvell’s countersuit against Armstrong for causing him emotional distress was thrown out earlier this year.

The jury ordered Shirvell to pay $4.5 million to the former object of his affection attention. Gordon said that her client would have dropped the lawsuit all along if Shirvell had just retracted the false statements.

After the verdict, Armstrong, who is now 22, said “I’m just incredibly humbled by what happened today. This is truly a victory, not just for myself, but for a lot of other kids out there.”

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