Attorney wonders why a rush to expel Gamrat despite staff lawyer recommending a censure
OPINION BY CINDY GAMRAT’S ATTORNEY MICHAEL J. NICHOLS
The recent resignation of Republican State Representative Todd Courser and the expulsion of Republican State Representative Cindy Gamrat leave a bad taste for me.
Questions about the role of the House Speaker’s Office and what this particular Speaker, Kevin Cotter, knew about discord in the offices of Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat. Other questions about why the staffers who were in conflict with both for different reasons were never served with subpoena to be brought under oath before the committee.
Other questions about the role of Mr. Courser vs the role of Ms. Gamrat – does it not take 2 to tango? That maxim is in conflict in this story with the right to individual consideration that we each should have when facing discipline in a public forum in the United States.
Ultimately, the fate of Cindy Gamrat was made by her fellow representatives of the Michigan House.
There were 103 votes tallied and at least 97 of those votes read not one word of the 833 page report. That, as identified by Democrat Representative Samir (Sam) Singh on the House floor, was the biggest flaw in this rushed process.
It was not until the leaders of the 2 caucus agreed to pass a resolution that referred the investigation to the Michigan State Police and the Republican Attorney General that 2/3rds votes required under rule 52 of the House of Representatives were mustered.
Was this more a need by the republican caucus to purge itself of 2 members of the tea party wing who were abrasive and secured no friends in the state house?
I have a bias that is important to disclose: I am Cindy Gamrat’s attorney. I have spent the better part of every waking hour trying to devour the report and roughly 6 hours of audio records with a team of lawyers and Ms. Gamrat herself.
I then spent significant time engaged in negotiating a censure agreement and convincing Ms. Gamrat to read a relatively brief statement of contrition that was – in the context of the hundreds of plea agreements to which I have been a party’s lawyer – pretty straightforward but for one significant paragraph.
It was no easy task to convince Ms. Gamrat to swallow this pill.
The statement followed a 3 hour negotiating session with House Majority Counsel that included consultation with the lead lawyer who presented the case to a select committee that would hold a “trial” followed by recommendations to the full house.
The full statement can be read here: http://house.mi.gov/sessiondocs/2015-2016/testimony/Committee389-9-8-2015.pdf
I have no doubt that this censure agreement would have been the resolution voted on by the House of Representatives but for its undoing during critical hours of in-fighting among the republican caucus against the background of a relatively young speaker who was elected over a rival thanks ironically to a block of 3 votes from Representatives Courser, Gamrat and Gary Glenn as I understand the dynamics.
What bothers me more than anything else, including the floor speeches by Representative Ed McBroom and Kurt Heise, airy and blustery though they may have been, was the rushed nature of a somber and constitutional process that gives the elected representatives the power to literally undo the election of fellow members who they do not like.
I am convinced that at best, the 6 members of the select committee are the only members of the House who read even one paragraph of the full investigation compiled by the house business office and the house majority counsel.
I observed prior disciplinary proceedings as both a member of the media when I worked for the Michigan News Network. The legendary Representatives Joe Mack, Dominic Jacobetti and of course, David Jaye among them.
I was a member of the public and practicing law by the time then-Senator Jaye was finally expelled by his colleagues after what seemed like chance after chance.
Those occasions had a common theme: bi-partisan concern about the need to protect the right of the electorate to choose the biggest buffoon who they want so long as the qualifications – such as they can be defined – of the member are sufficient.
In the Courser-Gamrat matter this was partisanship that bounced their fates pinball style for 16 hours on September 10-11, 2015.
Let us all face it: Ms Gamrat was essentially stoned.
She made no friends; was a lightning rod and stood as an independent. Those facts differentiated this sinner from every other 134 elected representative currently serving under the dome at Capitol and Michigan.
Here the question was consistently defined by the public attention brought about by Representative Courser’s lurid and ridiculous e-mail that he sent through the help of some intermediary henchmen.
No one has disputed, nor can anyone dispute that Ms. Gamrat knew only that he intended to ask a staff person to send an email that was over-the-top.
The details of this e-mail were for Mr. Courser and Mr. Courser alone to devise and he did.
She never had a chance to read it before its distribution and never would have approved its despicable content she tells me. From what I know of her I believe that claim.
Ms. Gamrat was very nervous and concerned when we hammered out the details of the censure request that she read that she would be painted as having agreed with every syllable of every word of the evidence.
I was careful when negotiating the language of this document to limit the agreement to “those” acts in line 3.
We agreed only that the emails and audio were accurate (in legal terms “authentic”).
Ms. Gamrat felt somewhat comfortable after reviewing the evidence and consulting with me that there were 4 things that she committed:
• An affair with another member;
• A meeting in the House Office on May 20th, after the other member had asked a staffer to help devise and send the so-called “over-the-top” email – because this meeting occurred in the House Office Building as opposed to the coffee shop adjacent to the building and personal issues were discussed – it violated House Rule 74 of using state resources for personal reasons;
• That she knew of the general plan but NOT the contents for the over the top email
• And finally, there was an unhealthy attempt to combine offices of the 2 representatives and a blur of personal, state and political business that was technically not compliant with Rule 74.
It is this last point that makes me crazy and I find almost laughable.
I considered a strategy – had the committee been granted subpoena power – of serving a subpoena on each and every office for the computer hard drive and daily calendar for that representative. Blending the personal, political and state business is a fact of life around Lansing.
I have been in this community for over 25 years as a news reporter and now lawyer.
I have met, represented, talked with, drank with and interviewed hundreds of people who pass the halls of the capitol and other buildings of government.
It happens because it is the only way that people can conduct business.
Lansing is a great community. It is recovering now from an ugly chapter in which the ultimate conclusion was an embarrassing public stoning of the female side of an act that occurs far too often in American society and Michigan politics: an affair.
Ms. Gamrat sat head down as the clock struck 4 am and members were telling her and I that the votes were there to expel her and she was better off resigning.
She decided not to do so because as she told reporters some 8 hours later: “there is honor in resigning … but there is also honor in staying and accepting the consequences of your actions.” For me, I kept thinking to myself “please do not vote on this until you go through the evidence.”
It is now too late for that. It is too late for at least Cindy Gamrat.
Perhaps it is too late for Michigan history when we look back and contemplate the use by this legislature of the awesome power granted it in the state constitution to undo a local election.
Michael J. Nichols is an attorney, author of the Michigan OWI Manual for West Publishing and an adjunct professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Western Michigan University/Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He is a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a founding member and member of the Board of Directors of the DUI Defense Lawyers Association; a faculty member and sustaining member of the National College for DUI Defense; a member of the Criminal Defense attorneys of Michigan for which he serves on the Rules and Laws Committee and a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for which he serves on the Task Force on Body Cameras. He began representing Ms. Gamrat August 23, 2015. firstname.lastname@example.org