LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A judge dismissed misconduct charges Tuesday against a former Michigan lawmaker who was forced from office in a sex scandal and ordered another ex-legislator to stand trial.
Lansing District Judge Hugh Clarke Jr. ruled that there was not enough evidence for Cindy Gamrat to face felony misconduct in office charges. But he said the case against Todd Courser will proceed on two of four counts – a perjury charge that carries a maximum 15 years in prison and a misconduct in office charge that has a maximum penalty of five years.
“Judge Clarke was correct to approve of these charges and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law in circuit court,” Michigan Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in a Tuesday night statement to 24 Hour News 8.
Clarke tossed two other misconduct charges against Courser.
Gamrat, 42, became only the fourth legislator in state history to be expelled in September. Courser, 43, resigned rather than be kicked out.
An aide testified during the hearing that Courser asked him to send an outlandishly false, sexually explicit email to thousands of fellow Republicans as a ruse so his extramarital affair with Gamrat – a fellow freshman tea party conservative – would not be believed if it became public, but the staffer refused because he thought it was unethical and possibly illegal.
The state attorney general’s office accused Gamrat and Courser of lying during a House Business Office investigation and of having staff in their combined office forge their signatures on legislation ready for introduction to beat another lawmaker in proposing a road-funding bill. But the judge said there was no probable cause that Gamrat ever told a staffer to sign her name on the legislation. He also ruled there was insufficient evidence that she knew about the email’s contents.
“I can’t say that there was corrupt intent here,” Clarke said.
Gamrat teared up while giving a short statement to reporters after the judge announced his decision.
“I do have a lot of mixed emotions. It’s been a really hard journey,” Gamrat said.
Tuesday night, Gamrat’s attorney, Michael Nichols, told 24 Hour News 8 this isn’t a time for the former lawmaker to celebrate:
“Today is completely bittersweet for her for a number of reasons, the least of which is that it’s not necessarily over,” Nichols said. “They (prosecutors) have 21 days to file an appeal to Judge Clarke’s ruling and take it to the circuit court.”
When asked, the AG’s Office told 24 Hour News 8 it is not planning an appeal.
The judge threw out a charge that Courser solicited his aide to send the bogus email during a late-night meeting at Courser’s law office in Lapeer, about 65 miles from Lansing.
“It didn’t take place here in my jurisdiction,” said Clarke, who also dismissed a charge that Courser gave false information to the House Business Office during its investigation.
Courser expressed confidence that he would prevail at trial, calling the remaining allegations – that he ordered staff to affix his signature to proposed bills in violation of House rules and subsequently perjured himself before a legislative disciplinary committee – the “weakest” brought by Attorney General Bill Schuette.
“I certainly maintain my innocence,” Courser said.–24 Hour News 8 contributed to this report.