LANSING - The sex scandal saga of former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat just cost the state an additional $515,000.
The amount is being paid to two former staffers of the Republican lawmakers — Keith Allard and Benjamin Graham — who are getting $169,985.42 each — and their attorneys at Pinsky, Smith, Fayette & Kennedy, who will receive $175,029.16.
"All of the parties believe now that settlement avoids further expensive litigation and is in the best interest of everyone, including the House as an institution and the Michigan taxpayers," said Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, in a joint statement with Allard and Graham. "Notwithstanding any of the other differences between the parties, the House appreciates that Mr. Allard and Mr. Graham did the right thing and brought serious concerns about the activities of Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat to light, allowing the House to take appropriate action."
Allard and Graham sued the House of Representatives, as well as Courser and Gamrat, after they were fired from their jobs when they wouldn’t participate in covering up the affair between the lawmakers. Courser and Gamrat requested that the pair be fired from their jobs, and the House went along with that request.
The settlement papers were filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. Several other lawsuits involving the scandal are pending in state and federal courts, and a criminal charge of misconduct in office is pending against Courser in Ingham County Circuit Court..
On Sept. 11, 2015, Courser resigned his seat, and the House of Representatives voted to expel Gamrat from office. Both ran for their seats in the ensuing special election, but lost their bids.
Courser, R-Lapeer, and Gamrat, R-Plainwell, were swept into office as two of the most prominent tea party winners in 2014 but got caught up in a sex scandal and bizarre cover-up in which Courser admitted sending out an anonymous e-mail, claiming he was a sexual deviant addicted to porn who paid for sex with men outside of bars in Lansing. The e-mail, which was widely distributed around Lansing, was intended to make it appear that Courser and Gamrat were the victims of a smear campaign and to make news of their affair pale in comparison.
Allard and Graham refused to go along with the plan and send out the e-mail and were later fired from their jobs.
The settlement "vindicates what we have been saying all along: Keith and Ben were unfairly and illegally fired after stepping forward to speak out about the illegal and unethical conduct of their supervisors, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat," said the staffers' attorney, Sarah Riley Howard.
"When Keith and Ben turned to House leadership and its top staff for guidance and support, they instead lost their jobs and had their lives turned upside down for more than a year," she added.
As part of the settlement, the House will also pay for the legal defense of Allard and Graham in federal lawsuits that Courser and Gamrat have filed against a variety of people.
A tally of the total legal costs incurred by the state as a result of the removal of the two lawmakers from office was not immediately available Tuesday. Even before Allard and Graham filed their federal lawsuit, the tab had grown to more than $80,000 in legal costs.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, email@example.com or on Twitter @michpoligal
Detroit Free Press