The former Michigan governor’s attorney pointed to the fact that he worked in Lansing, not Flint, during the lead-contamination crisis that began in April 2014.
FLINT, Mich. (CN) — Attorneys for former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder argued Tuesday for the dismissal of willful neglect charges brought against him over the Flint water crisis, claiming they were filed in the wrong court.
Snyder, a Republican, appeared virtually in Genesee County District Court for a pretrial conference but did not speak. In a hearing broadcast on YouTube, his lawyer Brian Lennon told Judge William Crawford the indictment is “fatally flawed” because state prosecutors “charged in the wrong venue” since Snyder was not based in Flint during the contaminated-water crisis that began in 2014.
The former governor was instead working from the capital city of Lansing, located in Ingham County. Lennon said he was holding off on submitting a motion to dismiss to see how prosecutors would respond.
“We are trying to give the government an opportunity to recognize this mistake and voluntarily dismiss this indictment against Governor Snyder,” he told Crawford.
Assistant Attorney General Bryant Osikowicz sought an adjournment to respond to Lennon and pointed to other issues with discovery that need to be discussed, but the judge asked the lawyers to meet Tuesday afternoon in order to move forward.
“I want to do as much as I can to keep this case on a normal track,” Crawford said.
Lennon said he was ready for an afternoon meeting and is eager to confirm if evidence was vetted by investigators not associated with the prosecution team in order to separate out any materials that would fall under attorney-client privilege.
“We’d like the opportunity to speak with the prosecution now,” the attorney said. “We think we should talk today.”
In a letter included with a request for documents and other evidence possessed by the state, Lennon said he would formally ask Crawford to dismiss the case against Snyder if prosecutors refused.
“Neither of these allegations of non-feasance, or failure to act, occurred while the former governor was in the city of Flint. At all times set forth in the indictment, our client was the presiding governor of the state of Michigan with the Executive Office of the Governor located at the Romney Building in downtown Lansing,” Lennon wrote.
The judge ordered the former governor not to leave the state without permission and set a personal recognizance bond at $10,000 for each of the two counts.
At a press conference held later that day by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office brought the case, Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy discussed the charges. Hammoud and Worthy were appointed by Nessel to oversee the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.
Worthy said the team reviewed “millions of documents” and said the case could be considered one of the biggest active criminal investigations in the world.
“The impact…will span generations,” she said. “This goes far beyond just failing to supervise.”
The lead-contamination crisis began in April 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials admitted they failed to require corrosion-control chemicals as part of the water treatment process.
Flint switched back to the Detroit water system in October 2015.
U.S. District Judge Judith Levy, a Barack Obama appointee, reviewed the deal and was urged by top lawyers to sign off on the agreement during a hearing last month. She said it was the “most complex settlement I’ve ever seen.” The judge said she would try to have an opinion ready by mid-January but cautioned that it could be delayed by further negotiation.
In his 2016 State of the State speech, Snyder addressed the people of Michigan with a quivering voice while stumbling over his words at times as he apologized repeatedly for the moves that led to the crisis.
“I’m sorry, and I will fix it,” Snyder said at the time. “Government failed you – federal, state and local leaders – by breaking the trust you placed in us.”
Emails were later released that showed state officials knew nearly a year prior about the link between the contamination and a spike in Legionnaires’ disease. While the former governor publicly confirmed the link in January 2016, an aide reportedly received an email about the connection in March 2015.
“The increase of the illness closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water,” Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor wrote in the email. “I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue.”
The move to switch water supplies was a cost-cutting one, taking filtration responsibilities from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and reassigning it to a city plant.
The water was not treated properly, however, and lead pipes infected the supply. Flint residents quickly complained of strange-tasting, cloudy water, but city and state leaders continued insisting that the supply was safe. Months later, researchers began publicizing high lead levels in the blood of Flint children.