Ingham judge puts brakes on Cotter’s testimony

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge on Monday put the brakes on a lower court’s ruling that House Speaker Kevin Cotter has to testify this week at a criminal hearing for former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

Circuit Court Judge James Jamo granted Cotter’s request for a stay and quick consideration of his appeal of Ingham County District Court Judge Hugh B. Clarke Jr.’s decision that the House Republican leader has to testify about statements he made to the Michigan State Police.

In his order, Jamo noted that the stay applies only to Cotter’s testimony and does not apply to any other aspect of preliminary examinations set to begin later this week.

House attorney Gary Gordon, in an emergency appeal filed Friday, argued that compelling Cotter to testify would violate his constitutional rights and “allow judicial intrusion into matters reserved to the Legislature,” such as the power to investigate and expel members for misconduct.

The House voted to expel Gamrat on Sept. 11, roughly one hour after Courser resigned to avoid the same fate.

“If (Cotter) is compelled to testify and to answer questions that fall within the purview of his activities as Speaker and as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives prior to appellate review of this issue, his constitutional rights against such compelled testimony will be violated and he will be irreparably harmed,” Gordon wrote.

Clarke has scheduled a two-day hearing Wednesday and Thursday to determine whether probable cause exists for Courser and Gamrat to stand trial for misconduct in office related to covering up their extramarital affair and lying to House investigators about it. Jamo has not set a date for his hearing.

Courser faces an additional charge of perjury for allegedly lying to a House committee under oath about whether he instructed House employees to forge his signature on proposed legislation.

This week, Clarke ruled that House Chief of Staff and General Counsel Brock Swartzle and GOP legal counsel Hassan Beydoun would have to testify at Courser and Gamrat’s probable cause hearing.

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.

The House has not appealed that ruling.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed