Former Rep. Courser gets 12 months probation for 'false flag' email

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Former state Rep. Todd Courser will serve 12 months of probation and 90 hours of community service after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor criminal charge in Lapeer County.

The sentence caps a nearly three-year legal fight that emerged from a sex scandal cover-up that cost the Lapeer-area Republican legislator his seat in 2015.


In August, Courser pleaded to willful neglect of duty by a public officer for soliciting a state employee to send a “false flag” email to discredit rumors of his extramarital affair with fellow state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, a West Michigan Republican. 

Part of Attorney General Dana Nessel’s plea agreement with Courser allowed for the dismissal at the Lapeer County sentencing of a separate felony charge in Ingham County. That perjury charge related to testimony he gave in 2015 to a select Michigan House of Representatives committee investigating his qualifications to remain in office.

Courser had argued the speech and debate clause of the Michigan Constitution gave him legislative immunity from the perjury charge, but an appeals panel unanimously ruled the clause didn't apply because the subject matter he was discussing was not related to legislation. 

Lapeer County Circuit Judge Nick Howlowka on Monday sentenced Courser to 90 hours of community service in lieu of 15 days in jail and will suspend an additional 30 days in jail upon completion of probation, according to Nessel’s office.

Courser also was ordered to pay $1,125 in fines and costs.

“Today’s sentence closes a case that has had a long and torturous history and reinforces that public officials will not be permitted to wield their power to cause harm to our state or its residents,” Nessel said in a Monday statement. “Todd Courser was wise to accept his sentence today and acknowledge responsibility for his actions.”

The plea agreement and sentence are a "victory" for Courser, his attorney Matthew DePerno said Monday. The case initiated under Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette was an "obscene" waste of money on a "political prosecution," DePerno said.

"This is a deal that should have been offered four years ago and would have been in any other case," he said. 

The charges date back to 2015 when Courser asked a staffer to distribute a fictional email alleging he had sex with a male prostitute in an attempt to conceal his actual relationship with Gamrat, as documented in audio recordings and first reported by The Detroit News.

Courser said on one recording the email was designed to create “a complete smear campaign” of exaggerated, false claims about him and Gamrat so a public revelation about the legislators’ relationship would seem “mild by comparison.”

The Michigan House speaker launched an investigation and seated a select committee to decide whether Courser and Gamrat should continue to hold office. The committee recommended their ousters. 

Courser resigned from the Michigan House in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2015, to avoid a likely expulsion. Gamrat declined to do the same and was expelled by her peers an hour later.

The Republican tea party duo had been accused of misusing state resources to cover up their extramarital affair.

Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette filed criminal charges against Courser and Gamrat in February 2016, but Gamrat's charges were dismissed a few months later.

In March, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Timothy Connors dismissed a separate civil lawsuit Courser had filed against The Detroit News and former reporter Chad Livengood that alleged the recordings featured in the original article were edited. 

Connors granted a motion for summary disposition, dismissed the case with prejudice and ordered Courser and DePerno to pay $79,201.63 to The Detroit News.

Connors denied Courser’s motion for reconsideration Aug. 29, but DePerno said he plans to appeal the decision.

In July, Grand Rapids U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist dismissed another lawsuit Courser filed alleging former leaders of the state House of Representatives conspired to remove him from office and subject him to criminal charges. The judge ruled the former House leaders and staffers have immunity. 

On Aug. 1, Courser appealed the case to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.