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Attorney: Courser will sue Michigan House

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Former state Rep. Todd Courser’s attorney confirmed Thursday his client plans to move ahead with a lawsuit against the state House of Representatives and said he has also issued a subpoena to Speaker Kevin Cotter in a separate case.

Courser and former state Rep. Cindy Gamrat filed a notice of intent last month in the Michigan Court of Claims that preserved their ability to sue six months after they were forced out of the House. The tea party Republicans were accused of misconduct in office related to their extramarital affair and attempted cover-up.

Attorney Matthew DePerno told The Detroit News that Courser intends to go ahead and sue the state House, but said he was not sure how soon a formal complaint will be filed.

“We haven’t finalized it yet, so some of the parts of the complaint may stay in, parts may not stay in, but the notice of intent was to put people on notice for what the claims may be,” DePerno said.

The notice argues that Courser and Gamrat were forced out of office in an unconstitutional manner, alleging violations of due process, equal protection, double jeopardy, unlawful search and seizure, and deprivation of salary.

It also alleges that Courser and Gamrat were “falsely imprisoned” and “falsely arrested” on the House floor during a 16-hour marathon session that stretched from Sept. 10 into the morning of Sept. 11.

Courser, a Lapeer-area Republican, ended up turning in a letter of resignation from the House floor before a new expulsion vote could be held. Gamrat, a GOP legislator from Plainwell, was expelled in a 91-12 vote.

DePerno declined to elaborate on the accusations.

“I think you’re going to have to wait to see what we file before we get into those issues to deeply,” he said.

Cases spark subpoenas

Courser and Gamrat, who both sought re-election but lost in their November primaries, are defendants in two other legal cases.

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

Separately, former legislative aides Keith Allard and Ben Graham are suing Courser and Gamrat in Ingham County Circuit Court, arguing their affair created a hostile work environment.

As part of that whistle-blower case, DePerno has issued a series of subpoenas to lawmakers, officials and a political consultant Courser previously accused of sending anonymous text messages that were later attributed to a friend of Gamrat’s husband.

DePerno confirmed that he issued a subpoena to Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, but declined to discuss any other individuals he subpoenaed.

“I don’t want to disclose all that … but it’s more than five,” he said.

Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro confirmed the speaker received a subpoena in the case. House Business Director Tim Bowlin, who led a Courser-Gamrat probe that led to the expulsion proceedings, said he received one as well.

Republican political consultant David Forsmark received a subpoena from Courser’s attorney demanding “any and all” emails, test messages, videos, pictures or other communications involving a lengthy list of individuals, officials and reporters since Nov. 2014.

Forsmark said Wednesday he would fight the subpoena, which calls for him to show up at DePerno’s office by April 22 or hand over requested documents.

“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.

Threatened suit called ‘laughable’

State Rep. Ed McBroom, who led the legislative committee that heard testimony from Courser and Gamrat and recommended expelling them, told The News he was not among those who received a subpoena from Courser’s attorney.

As chairman of the committee, McBroom said his “legislative immunity is so clear” and suggested Courser’s attorney could run into the same issue trying to subpoena Cotter.

As for the pending lawsuit against the House, which alleges Courser and Gamrat were not afforded due process in the expulsion hearings, McBroom called the claims “laughable” and suggested the former legislators never took the time to read the rules related to the proceedings.

“They talk about the Constitution – they use that word all the time – but it’s pretty obvious they didn’t read it. The House was well within its constitutional duties,” said McBroom, R-Vulcan. “If they bothered to read the rules, they would know this case stands zero chance.”

D’Assandro said Wednesday he would not comment on an ongoing litigation.

Robert J. Baker, an Allegan attorney representing Gamrat, said this week 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 News.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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Staff writer Chad Livengood contributed