- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter must testify in open court in the criminal case of two former lawmakers who were forced from office in a sex scandal, a judge ruled Thursday.

Lansing District Judge Hugh Clarke Jr. denied the Republican leader’s motion to quash Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat’s subpoena for him to answer questions next week in the preliminary examination, which will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. Clarke also changed course and said Cotter will not first be questioned privately in the judge’s chambers.

Cotter had claimed legislative immunity under the Michigan Constitution’s speech and debate clause. Clarke said the provision applies to civil but not criminal cases, and the most of the questions submitted by the defendants cannot be answered by anyone other than Cotter.

“We disagree strongly with Judge Clarke’s ruling,” Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said. “We believe the constitution is clear, and he has seriously misread it. We look forward to asserting our rights on appeal.”

Gamrat, who was expelled by the House in September, and Courser, who resigned the same day rather than be kicked out, are accused of felony misconduct in office stemming from a House investigation into a bizarre attempted cover-up of their extramarital affair. Courser faces a felony perjury charge, too.

The Republicans also face charges they that told staff to forge their signatures on legislation.

Courser has admitted to devising an 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 if it was revealed by an anonymous extortionist who - acting at the behest of Gamrat’s husband Joe, according to a later state police investigation - sent him and Gamrat text messages demanding that they resign.

Courser and Gamrat have said Cotter orchestrated their removal from office for political reasons. Clarke ruled earlier this week that Cotter’s top aide and other House employees can be called to testify in the probable cause hearing.

Gamrat’s attorney Mike Nichols said “nobody’s sky is going to fall” if Cotter testifies.

“He’s an important witness because he’s all over this case,” he said.

The judge cautioned that the defendants’ lawyers will not be allowed to probe into Cotter’s speech, debate, voting or “anything he did in the (House) chamber or committee meetings.” Questions could relate to “routine administrative matters” and his statements during an interview with the state police or anyone from the state attorney general’s office, Clarke said.


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

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