LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A judge dismissed misconduct charges Tuesday against two former Michigan lawmakers for their role in a bizarre, false email that was sent as a ruse to hide their extramarital affair, but let other charges proceed against one of them.
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 can continue to trial on two of four counts — a perjury charge that carries a maximum 15 years in prison and a misconduct in office charge with a maximum five-year penalty.
Gamrat, who turns 43 on Wednesday, became only the fourth legislator in state history to be expelled. Courser, 43, resigned in September rather than be kicked out.
"I do have a lot of mixed emotions. It's been a really hard journey," a tearful Gamrat told reporters.
Courser expressed confidence that he would prevail at trial, calling the remaining allegations — that he ordered staff to forge his signature on draft legislation and then lied about it to a legislative disciplinary committee that was investigating the email cover-up — the "weakest" brought by state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
"I certainly maintain my innocence," Courser said.
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said the office will not appeal the dismissal of charges against Gamrat.
"Judge Clarke was correct to approve of these charges and we will prosecute (Courser) to the fullest extent of the law in circuit court," she said.
An aide for the former lawmakers testified during the probable cause hearing that Courser asked him to send an outlandishly bogus, sexually explicit email to thousands of fellow Republicans as a trick so his extramarital affair with Gamrat — a fellow married, freshman tea party conservative — would not be believed if it was revealed by an anonymous extortionist. The extortionist turned out to be Gamrat's husband, according to a separate state police probe.
The staffer, who later was fired and gave a secret recording of the meeting to The Detroit News, said he refused to send the email because he thought it was unethical and possibly illegal.
The attorney general's office has said it began investigating even before the Michigan House asked for a criminal investigation at the time of the expulsion and resignation. The attorney general's office accused Gamrat and Courser of lying during a House Business Office investigation and of having employees in their combined office sign their names on legislation ready for introduction to beat another conservative lawmaker in proposing road-funding bills.
But the judge said there was insufficient evidence that Gamrat told an aide to sign her name on the legislation. He also ruled there was no probable cause that she knew about the email's contents.
"I can't say that there was corrupt intent here," Clarke said.
The judge threw out a charge that Courser solicited an aide to send the phony 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 during the House investigation.
The attorney general's office is reviewing its options with regard to the charges against Courser that were rejected.
Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert