Cotter can be forced to testify in ex-reps’ hearings

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — House Speaker Kevin Cotter can be compelled to testify in the criminal proceedings of two former lawmakers he forced from office about statements he made to law enforcement authorities, an Ingham County judge ruled Thursday.

Cotter can be questioned next week during the probable cause hearings for former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, ruled Judge Hugh B. Clarke Jr. of the Ingham County District Court in a six-page ruling.

The judge ordered Cotter to set aside two hours in his schedule next week to testify.

Courser’s and Gamrat’s attorneys have been fighting for weeks to put Cotter on the witness stand and question him under oath about statements he made to Michigan State Police and Attorney General’s Office investigators.

The former lawmakers face felony charges stemming from Courser’s failed cover-up of their extramarital affair and a House investigation that was used to expel Gamrat and force Courser to resign for misconduct in office last September.

In an earlier ruling, Clarke said he would review written questions submitted by Courser’s and Gamrat’s attorneys that they want to ask Cotter in open court.

“After multiple reviews of the questions by counsel for the defendants, the court finds most of the questions cannot be answered by anyone other than Speaker Cotter,” Clarke wrote in his ruling.

Cotter’s attorneys had invoked legislative immunity, and the speech and debate clause of the Michigan Constitution in an effort to shield the Mount Pleasant from being forced to testify.

Clarke said Gamrat’s and Courser’s attorneys won’t be able to ask questions about how Cotter voted on their expulsion or comments he made on the House floor.

A spokesman for Cotter said the House GOP leader would appeal the judge’s ruling to Ingham County Circuit Court.

“We disagree strongly with Judge Clarke’s ruling,” Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Thursday. “We believe the constitution is clear and he has seriously misread it. We look forward to asserting our rights on appeal.”

Clarke ruled earlier this week that House Chief of Staff and General Counsel Brock Swartzle and GOP legal counsel Hassan Beydoun would have to testify.

The judge also said Courser and Gamrat’s attorneys could call as witnesses House Clerk Gary Randall, House Business Office Director Tim Bowlin and his deputy, Doug Simon, as well as Deborah Wroubel, financial operations director for the House.

Cotter’s office will not appeal that ruling and all House employees will appear in court next week, D’Assandro said.

Courser and Gamrat’s probable cause hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 54-A District Court in downtown Lansing, across the street from the Capitol.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood