- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Two former Michigan lawmakers who were forced out of office in a sex scandal appeared in court on misconduct charges Tuesday, with one calling the case against him “baseless.”

Cindy Gamrat’s lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf to avoid having the charges read in a courtroom across the street from the Capitol, four days after felony charges were filed by Attorney General Bill Schuette. Todd Courser appeared without a lawyer. Both Gamrat and Course were released on bond by District Judge Hugh Clarke Jr.

“They’re baseless and I’ll fight the charges,” Courser told reporters afterward.

The alleged crimes by the Republican pair mostly relate to an effort to cover up their affair, either by using publicly paid staff or lying to investigators. Courser and Gamrat also are accused of telling staff to forge their signatures on legislation.

Asked if he lied, Courser said: “No, not to my recollection. I didn’t intentionally deceive anyone.”

Gamrat, who is from Allegan County and declined to speak with the media, was expelled by the House in September, while Courser of Lapeer County resigned rather than be kicked out. They tried to regain their seats in a special election but lost.

Courser is facing up to 15 years in prison for perjury and misconduct in office. Gamrat is confronting up to five years for official misconduct.

Courser has admitted to devising a sexually explicit phony email that said he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub. He explained that he thought his tale would make the affair less plausible in case it were revealed by an anonymous extortionist who - acting at the behest of Gamrat’s husband Joe, according to a state police investigation - sent him and Gamrat text messages demanding that they resign.

A county prosecutor declined to pursue charges in connection with the alleged extortion.

Gamrat’s attorney, Mike Nichols, on Tuesday accused Schuette of bringing “this thing back from the dead.” He called the charges “unique and unusual.”

Schuette, a Republican, said in a statement that “it is our duty to pursue justice, no matter who is involved.”

Courser characterized the timing of the charges as “peculiar” at a time that GOP Gov. Rick Snyder is under heavy scrutiny for Flint’s water crisis and has released thousands of his office’s emails related to the disaster. Courser’s county, Lapeer, is adjacent to Genesee County - where Flint is under a state of emergency.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that happened over there that I think would be much more advantageous for the people of the state of Michigan to look at what really happened there,” Courser said.

Schuette is investigating if civil or criminal charges should be filed because of what happened in Flint.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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