CINCINNATI (CN) — A Tea Party Republican who was ousted from the Michigan House of Representatives after he used public funds to cover up an affair with a colleague argued before the Sixth Circuit on Thursday to revive his conspiracy claims against the state government and numerous lawmakers.
Todd Courser’s infamous career as a state representative ended with his resignation in September 2015 — less than a year after he was elected — and included an extramarital affair with fellow Republican legislator Cindy Gamrat, a “false flag” email with salacious gay sex allegations, the firing of numerous staffers and the use of taxpayer funds to cover up his actions.
He also eventually faced felony criminal charges for misconduct in public office, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that resulted in a sentence of 12 months of probation.
The year after his resignation, Courser filed a voluminous complaint in federal court against the state legislature and several members that sought more than $10 million in punitive damages for an alleged conspiracy that involved wiretaps and was the result of Courser’s failure to “toe the party line.”
The suit alleged that members of the legislature directed several subordinate employees to track Courser’s movements and wiretap his phones to ferret out information about his affair with Gamrat. The subordinates were not named in the suit as defendants.
Following a voluntary dismissal and refiling of an amended complaint, U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist, an appointee of George H. W. Bush, dismissed the lawsuit in July 2019, calling it “absurd on its face.”
Quist noted that because Courser’s vote on certain items of the Republican agenda had no bearing on the passage of legislation, “the House defendants thus had no reason undermine Courser’s and Gamrat’s effectiveness.”
The conspiracy claims related to the criminal charges were also ridiculed by Quist in his opinion.
“The public record shows,” the judge wrote, “that Courser’s claim that the House defendants conspired to bring criminal charges against him is patently absurd, given that a Democrat, Representative Andy Schor, introduced House Resolution No. 145 to refer the investigation to the Michigan Attorney General and the Michigan State Police.”
Thursday’s arguments before the Sixth Circuit were conducted via videoconference, and attorney Matthew DePerno argued on behalf of Courser.
He told the panel that the members of the legislature named in the suit acted outside their official capacities when they ordered subordinates to “dig up dirt” on Courser and are therefore not entitled to immunity.
U.S. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, an appointee of President Donald Trump, asked the attorney about the specific facts that would lend credibility to Courser’s conspiracy theory.
“Is it enough to simply make an allegation that someone directed someone else to do something?” Nalbandian asked.
“We attached to the complaint many, many exhibits,” DePerno said, “including all of these text messages … in which [the subordinates] describe this conspiracy.”
Nalbandian pressed the attorney, and admitted that while Courser might have a case against the subordinates, evidence against the state representatives was lacking.
“I’m not sure I saw a link in the text messages between these three and what we’re calling the ‘House defendants,’ in terms of them being in a RICO enterprise or a conspiracy,” the judge said, referring to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act .
DePerno said the district court failed to take his client’s allegations as true, and told the panel, “It can’t be said that all of the things that they did in this case would be entitled to immunity.”
Attorney Gary Gordon argued on behalf of the Michigan House of Representatives, and began by reading a sworn statement made by Courser at the conclusion of the House’s investigation in September 2015.
In the statement, Courser called the investigation “an absolutely fair process,” a sentiment Gordon said was betrayed by the amount of litigation that ensued following his resignation.
“The crucial required showing that the alleged conspirators had any agreement or were linked in the ways that Courser argues is absent,” the attorney said. “There are no facts to support this.”
Judge Nalbandian asked Gordon about the allegations the subordinates were asked or required to report back to members of the legislature about their surveillance of Courser.
“There’s no allegation that they were asked to report back on the so-called affair,” Gordon responded. “There’s no allegation that they were told to stalk, to eavesdrop, to hack computers, to do any of that.”
The attorney also called Courser’s theory that he was singled out so the House could pass certain legislation “inoperable,” as a then-Republican majority did not need Courser’s vote for any of its bills.
In his rebuttal, DePerno cited specific examples from his client’s complaint that linked members of the House to the actions taken by the subordinate employees.
“There, of course, were meetings about this,” he said. “There, of course, were meetings about what they were going to do to Courser or Gamrat because they were viewed as people who were not conforming within the caucus.”
U.S. Circuit Judges Joan Larsen, another Trump appointee, and Julia Gibbons, an appointee of George W. Bush, also sat on the panel.
No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.