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Mich. Official Off Job After Targeting Gay Student

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Mich. Official Off Job After Targeting Gay Student

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Mich. Official Off Job After Targeting Gay Student

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Michigan, an assistant attorney general is heading to court and could lose his job. As Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports, the government lawyer has been on a personal crusade against the openly gay student body president of the University of Michigan.

RICK PLUTA: Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell took a sudden leave of absence today. That's after the University of Michigan officially barred him from campus. He's been threatened with arrest for trespassing if he returns.

Here's why: Shirvell has been showing up at campus events to protest and taunt U. of M.'s first openly gay student body president, sociology major Chris Armstrong. Shirvell also has a blog called "Chris Armstrong Watch" devoted to the college senior.

Shirvell did not respond to NPR's request for an interview. But he did defend his actions earlier this week on CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN interview)

Mr. ANDREW SHIRVELL (Assistant Attorney General, Michigan): Chris Armstrong is a radical homosexual activist who got elected partly funded by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to promote a very deeply radical agenda at the University of Michigan.

PLUTA: Among other things, Shirvell has published a picture of Armstrong online and digitally pasted a Nazi swastika over his face, alongside the word "resign." Shirvell puts his words and deeds in the context of a political campaign. Political speech is very protected, with wide latitude to say and do things that might otherwise get a person in trouble.

(Soundbite of CNN interview)

Mr. SHIRVELL: In any political campaign, you have to raise awareness and issues, and that's one way of doing it is by protesting.

PLUTA: Part of that protesting included staking out Armstrong's home and videotaping him at all hours. Shirvell's boss is Michigan's Republican Attorney General Mike Cox. He initially said, as obnoxious as Shirvell's behavior seemed, there was nothing he could do about it. Outside of the office and off-hours, Cox said, his employee had free speech rights and civil service protection.

Now, Cox says he is taking a closer look at his employee's behavior.

Mr. MIKE COX (Attorney General, Michigan): I had made a mistake, or I should have been more diligent. And ultimately, that's all on me.

PLUTA: Cox says he's done a more thorough examination of Shirvell's blogs.

Mr. COX: I was shocked. I knew he had political views of a certain bent, but reading the blogs - really aren't, you know, in the conventional sense, political discourse. They're really these screeds attacking an individual personally.

PLUTA: Cox says the early-hour stakeouts of Armstrong's home may also have crossed a line.

The attorney general says he has been getting a hundred e-mails a day calling for him to fire Shirvell. He says Shirvell will face a disciplinary hearing under civil service rules if and when he returns to work. But Cox is careful to say he has not pre-judged the situation.

Thomas Habratowski is an openly gay U. of M. junior majoring in English. He says the atmosphere on campus has been intense but supportive in the past few days.

Mr. THOMAS HABRATOWSKI (College Student): It affects the college life just a little bit. It kind of brings forth a sense of unity through everyone in their classes. Not only students but also professors are showing their support for Chris Armstrong right now.

PLUTA: Habratowski says that includes distributing T-shirts on campus expressing support for the student body president.

Armstrong has asked for a restraining order against Shirvell. A court hearing on that has been scheduled for Monday. The Michigan attorney general says he's sending another government lawyer to the courtroom to monitor what happens and report back to his office. For NPR News, this is Rick Pluta in Lansing, Michigan.

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