Courser perjury case gets new judge

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A judge who was scheduled to preside over a felony perjury trial for former state Rep. Todd Courser has recused himself, court records show.

Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette will no longer be involved after ordering in January that the Lapeer-area Republican undergo an exam in which Courser was found mentally competent to stand trial scheduled for May 22.

The office of Ingham County Circuit Chief Judge Janelle Lawless on Monday issued the “order of disqualification” and reassigned the case to Ingham Circuit Judge James Jamo, according to court filings.

The shift in judges comes a week after Courser’s lawyer, Matthew DePerno, accused Collette of ethical misconduct.

Courser is accused of lying under oath during a legislative hearing about misconduct and misuse of state resources related to his attempt to cover up an extramarital affair with former state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell. Courser resigned about an hour before Gamrat was expelled in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2015.

Audio recordings published by The Detroit News showed Courser asking a staffer to help him send a “false flag” email in which the legislator accused himself of having sex with a male prostitute, an apparent attempt to distract from the truth. The staffer declined and was later fired.

DePerno said Collette verbally abused him and Courser’s mother as well as held secret meetings with lawyers from Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office without inviting him. DePerno submitted a letter and other documents outlining the allegations to Lawless.

DePerno said he now expects a fair trial with Jamo presiding.

On March 22, Collette rejected a motion by DePerno to remove himself from the case.

“This morning I received a call from Judge Lawless’ staff telling me that Judge Collette has disqualified himself,” DePerno said in an email. “Clearly, in light of all that I have submitted and the affidavits, the optics for him are better to disqualify himself rather than allow Judge Lawless to disqualify him.”

In January, Collette tried to eject DePerno from the courtroom, telling him to leave over allegedly “offensive comments” before appearing to relax and ask DePerno more questions.

Courser’s attorney previously filed a motion to disqualify Collette, alleging that the judge would not be objective.

DePerno has filed motions to hold Collette and assistant attorneys general Denise Hart and Gregory Townsend in contempt of court over his allegations.

A Schuette spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely, declined to comment.