A jury on Aug. 16 awarded a gay University of Michigan student body president $4.5 million in his lawsuit against a former Michigan assistant attorney general who posted about him in an anti-gay blog.
The U.S. District Court jury ruled in favor of Christopher Armstrong, who claimed he suffered distress after a blog created by Andrew Shirvell accused him of enticing minors with alcohol and recruiting people to become homosexual.
“I’m just incredibly humbled by what happened today,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “This is truly a victory — not just for myself, but for a lot of other kids out there.”
Shirvell, who was representing himself, said the jury award was “grossly excessive” for what was “clearly protected speech ... and activity.”
“This should have been thrown out,” he said, adding that he plans to appeal. “Juries give short shrift to First Amendment rights.”
Armstrong accused Shirvell of defamation as well as emotional distress for his actions on the blog, in Facebook posts and during visits to the Ann Arbor campus.
Then-Attorney General Mike Cox fired Shirvell in 2010 after he criticized Armstrong, who graduated last year.
Shirvell has said he viewed his blog “as a movement to get” Armstrong to resign. Shirvell argued he was acting within his First Amendment rights and that his statements were either true or protected because of Armstrong’s role as a public figure.
Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, had said she would drop the lawsuit if Shirvell apologized and retracted his comments. Shirvell said that was disingenuous, since it wasn’t until closing arguments that a multimillion-dollar award was brought up.
Shirvell said he’s unemployed and “there’s no way I could possibly ever pay such a judgment.”
Gordon said the jury couldn’t make him apologize, so the money was the only answer.
“We needed him to retract the flat-out fabrications he had come up with about Chris,” she said. “Once he refused to take responsibility, we put it in the hands of the jury.”