Courser, Gamrat may sue House for ‘false’ imprisonment

Jonathan Oosting, and Chad Livengood

Lansing — Former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are fighting back against a civil lawsuit and criminal charges by threatening to sue the Michigan House of Representatives.

Courser and Gamrat last month filed a document in the Michigan Court of Claims attempting to preserve their ability to sue the House, Speaker Kevin Cotter and their former aides for damages exceeding $500,000, arguing the potential defendants engaged in a “conspiracy” to end their political careers.

The notice of intent claims the GOP-controlled House “falsely imprisoned” and “falsely arrested” the former legislators during a marathon 16-hour session that ended in the early hours of Sept. 11. Gamrat, a Plainwell Republican, was ousted in a House vote, while Lapeer-area Republican Courser resigned over a failed cover-up of their extramarital affair.

Courser and Gamrat’s joint notice was filed March 10 — within the six-month statute of limitations for suing the House. It came before Courser’s attorney late last week started issuing broad subpoenas to those involved in the expulsion hearings.

“It was to put them on notice,” Courser told The Detroit News. He declined to confirm whether he and Gamrat plan to follow through and sue the state.

“Obviously, there was enough done wrong, during the whole of the expulsion proceedings, and also the various players who are so intimately connected,” he said.

Robert J. Baker, an Allegan attorney representing Gamrat, said the filing leaves options open for his client.

Baker declined to elaborate on the legal argument that Gamrat and Courser were “imprisoned” in the House chamber during the expulsion proceedings.

“You’ll have to wait until we file our pleadings. It will all be there in great detail,” Baker told The Detroit News.

The notice of intent accuses Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, and his top aides as well as Courser and Gamrat’s former aides Keith Allard, Ben Graham and Joshua Cline of an elaborate scheme that violated the two representatives’ civil rights under the U.S. and Michigan constitutions.

Ex-reps outline ‘conspiracy’

The court filing adds to Courser and Gamrat’s public suggestions that they were booted from office to help legislative Republicans last fall pass a $1.2 billion road funding package that included tax and vehicle registration increases. Their empty seats lowered the minimum threshold for passing the tax and fee hikes.

“This conspiracy related to the Tier 1 Defendants’ desire to pass certain legislation (namely Proposal 15-1 and the House Roads Package) and their desire to remove Claimants from the House of Representatives for their own political and financial gain,” the filing alleges.

Courser and Gamrat claim they were the victims of “undercover surveillance operations, illegal wiretapping and eavesdropping, extortion, secret meetings, threats and intimidation, identity theft, invasion of privacy and hacking.”

The notice of intent also names Port Huron resident David Horr as a potential defendant, should the pair decide to file suit.

Horr was the co-worker and friend of Gamrat’s husband, Joe Gamrat, who bought a disposable cellphone and sent anonymous text messages to Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser.

A Michigan State Police investigation concluded that Horr sent the text messages threatening to expose the affair at the behest of Joe Gamrat in a bid to get his wife away from Courser.

The Lapeer County prosecutor declined to charge Horr and Joe Gamrat with crimes in the matter, citing potential jury sympathy for the husband trying to end his wife’s affair.

The complaint does not name Joe Gamrat as a defendant.

Potential defendants named

In addition to Cotter, his Chief of Staff Brock Swartzle, former Chief of Staff Norm Saari and House Business Office Director Tim Bowlin are all named as potential defendants in the complaint.

“We don’t comment about ongoing litigation,” Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged Courser and Gamrat with multiple felony charges for misconduct in office related the affair and their operation of an unusual combined House office.

Schuette also is named as a defendant in the Courser-Gamrat complaint. The former lawmakers intend to sue the Republican attorney general in an effort to challenge the constitutionality of the Legislature’s procedures for expelling members and the common law code Schuette used to charge them.

Baker said his client hasn’t pursued the civil lawsuit yet because “the felony charges became a priority.”

Separately, Allard and Graham are suing their former bosses in Ingham County Circuit Court, arguing the Courser-Gamrat affair created a hostile work environment. A judge has scheduled a March 2017 trial for the slow-moving lawsuit.

Matthew DePerno, a Portage attorney representing Courser, sent subpoenas last week to several individuals, including Republican political consultant David Forsmark.

Courser said he does not know who received subpoenas from his attorney, but he suggested the list likely included “anyone tangentially involved” in his expulsion hearing or a probe conducted by the House Business Office.

In August, Courser accused Forsmark of being part of a “ring” of individuals who sent the anonymous text messages to him and Gamrat threatening to expose their affair if they didn’t resign from office.

Forsmark said Wednesday he would fight the subpoena, which asked for bank records, telephone records and electronic communications with a list of individuals dating back to Nov. 1, 2014.

“My only connection to this is his fevered imaginations, which the State Police investigation already proved what he said I did was done by Joe Gamrat,” Forsmark told The News.

Gamrat lawyer Baker said he didn’t know Courser’s attorney had issued any subpoenas.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Baker said Wednesday.

DePerno did not return messages seeking comment.

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What filing means

Michigan law requires individuals who want to sue the state to file a notice of intention in the state Court of Claims. It is like a statute of limitations. In some cases where claimants are seeking monetary damages, they must file the notice within six months of the event that prompted the lawsuit so they can preserve the right to sue.