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Hate Blog Exposure Justified Lawyer’s Firing

(CN) - Benefits are not available to a former assistant Michigan attorney general who wrote vitriolic anti-gay blog posts, an appeals court ruled.

Andrew Shirvell lost his job as an assistant state attorney general over blog posts against then-University of Michigan student-body president Chris Armstrong.

Although Shirvell used a pseudonym to maintain the blog, which he called the "Chris Armstrong Watch," the newspaper Between the Lines revealed Shirvell as the true author in May 2010.

Shirvell later appeared on both CNN and "The Daily Show" to defend the blog's content, which mainly concerned Armstrong's sexual orientation, and his alleged "radical homosexual agenda."

In various entries, Shirvell called Armstrong a "radical homosexual activist, racist, elitist & liar," a "privileged pervert," and "Satan's representative."

He accused Armstrong of hosting a "gay orgy" and of demonstrating "a severe contempt for the First Amendment right to freedom of expression[, m]uch like Nazi Germany's leaders, many of whom were also homosexuals."

One entry included a picture of a swastika superimposed on a rainbow flag next to Armstrong's face.

Shirvell also claimed that gender-neutral housing on campus, a practice Armstrong supported, would "undoubtedly lead to a massive increase in rapes," and ensure that "cross-dressing students will not have to share a dorm room with a member of the same sex."

In addition, the assistant attorney general picketed Armstrong's home, and appeared at events that Armstrong attended, prompting the student body president to seek a restraining order.

Swiftly responding to the exposure of Shirvell's conduct, the Michigan Attorney General's Office fired him in 2010 for "conduct unbecoming a state employee."

Two years later, a jury awarded Armstrong $4.5 million in 2012 for Shirvell's defamation and harassment.

Shirvell meanwhile challenged his termination and demanded unemployment benefits.

Though the Ingham Circuit Court affirmed the commission's finding that the AG's office had just cause to fire Shirvell, it found that he did deserve unemployment benefits.

The ruling said Shirvell's speech activities were protected and thus could not be deemed as disqualifying misconduct.

A three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals sided with the state on both issues last week, reversing the finding on his unemployment-benefits claim.

"The Department introduced evidence to show that its interests in the effective provision of governmental services outweighed Shirvell's speech interests," Justice Stephen Borrello wrote for the court. "Shirvell's speech created a media firestorm which in turn created a public-relations crisis."

Michigan's then-attorney general, Michael Cox, even found it necessary to give a nationally televised interview in response to the outcry against Shirvell's actions, the court noted.

"Furthermore, irrespective of whether the 20,000 plus complaints were part of an 'organized campaign' by a 'Hollywood publicist,' as Shirvell contends, the complaints nevertheless negatively impacted the Department's internal operations," Borrello wrote.

The panel said it was "no surprise" that Shirvell's relationship with co-workers and his superiors at the department changed after his appearances on television, given that the case forced Cox to "defend the integrity of the department in general and its anti-cyber-bulling initiatives in particular".

Borrello credited the AG office's determination that "Shirvell compromised his ability to appear in court as a representative of the entire citizenry of the state when, in the words of [former Solicitor General Eric] Restuccia, Shirvell had lost all credibility and had become the 'paradigm of the bigot.'"

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