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Ex-Rep. Courser sues state House, speaker, Detroit News

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Former state Rep. Todd Courser filed suit in federal court this week against the state House of Representatives, Speaker Kevin Cotter, Attorney General Bill Schuette, State Police and The Detroit News, among others, alleging an elaborate conspiracy to discredit him and remove him from office.

The lawsuit by the lawyer and Lapeer-area Republican also targets three House employees who worked with him. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, comes almost a year since Courser resigned from office after he and former Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, were accused of misconduct in office related to their extramarital affair and subsequent attempt at a cover-up.

In describing the alleged conspiracy, Courser says defendants acted maliciously, recklessly, intentionally, unlawfully or through gross negligence “for their own financial and political goals.”

On Aug. 7, 2015, The Detroit News published a story and audio recordings from May 2015 in which Courser asked an aide to distribute by email a false rumor that Courser had sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, requested a House Business Office investigation that subsequently found “deceptive, deceitful and outright dishonest conduct” by Courser and Gamrat that included misuse of public office for personal, business and political gain. Courser resigned his office early in the morning of Sept. 11, 2015, about an hour before the Michigan House voted 91-12 to oust Gamrat.

Courser alleges that certain House members and staff, including Cotter, “unconstitutionally” forced him to resign, arguing he could only be removed from office by his constituents through a recall. The Michigan Senate and House have used the state Constitution to expel four members in the state’s 179-year history.

The former lawmaker argues he was targeted in part because of his commitment to opposing tax increases, including the unsuccessful 2015 statewide proposal for a sales tax increase and road funding plan.

“This is silly. Todd seems bored. He should get a hobby, or maybe a new girlfriend,” Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Friday about the suit.

In the suit, Courser blames his “constructive expulsion” in part on “knowingly false” testimony by the legislative aides, Keith Allard and Ben Graham, who he alleges provided audio recordings to The Detroit News. Those aides reported potential violations of state law and House rules by Courser and Gamrat before the lawmakers fired them last year.

The recordings were made without Courser’s knowledge, so he claims in the lawsuit that the newspaper and reporter Chad Livengood violated wiretapping and eavesdropping statutes by relying on the audio recordings in its reporting.

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling says participants in a conversation may record a discussion without obtaining the permission of other participants. “A recording made by a participant is nothing more than a more accurate record of what was said,” the court decided in a 1982 case.

The former House aides are suing Courser and Gamrat for wrongful termination separately in Ingham County Circuit Court.

In his suit, Courser accuses the State Police, Schuette and others of charging him with crimes, while not charging others with similar crimes, “for the purpose of insulating and covering up the behavior of all defendants.”

Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitley said the office had not received the suit and could not comment.

In June, Ingham County Circuit Judge Hugh Clarke Jr. ordered Courser to stand trial for allegedly ordering House staff to forge his signature on proposed legislation and then lying about it to a House committee. Clarke dismissed misuse of office charges related to the scandal against Gamrat and Courser.

In July, Schuette refiled a misconduct in office charge against Courser in Lapeer County for trying to get his House aide to send the lewd “controlled burn” email.

Gamrat this week filed a separate suit against four state lawmakers who served on the special House committee that voted to expel her and Courser, arguing she didn’t have a fair opportunity to defend herself from the allegations detailed in the House’s investigation. Her suit also names Tim Bowlin, House Business Office director, alleging defamation based on the office’s report.

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