Saturday, August 18, 2012

Former Michigan assistant attorney general assessed damages for defamation in blog; was this a "conflict of interest"?

A federal jury in Detroit has ordered a former Michigan assistant attorney general, Andrew Shirvell, to pay $4.5 million in damages to recent University of Michigan graduate Chris Armstrong, for several torts: defamation (libel), invasion of privacy, stalking, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (that last one is open to abuse in my thinking). 

Shirvell had written the defamatory comments about the student (who was president of the student body and openly gay) in a blog, and had been interviewed by Anderson Cooper on AC360.  Shirvell would subsequently be fired from the attorney general’s office.

Of course Shievell’s conduct was boorish (to say the least), but in my mind, the real question is whether it is appropriate for someone in public office and having powers to make decisions about others, to rant about his views on anything in public forums. 

One could ask the same question about the behavior of  the “Chick Fil A” CEO, given the presumption that his company is part of the American mainstream.  (Maybe it isn’t.)

When I was working for a company that sold life insurance to military officers, back in the 1990s, we all felt that a transfer to an acquiring company (and away from a possible “conflict of interest”) would be a good idea, although some of the discussion was “under the table”.  But even so, I had not in a position with direct reports (subordinates), or with the ability to make underwriting decisions about customers (which the company had said could be a real legal or ethical concern).

 The CNN news story on the Shirvell civil judgment is here.

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