1st Anniversary of Flint Water Charges Signals Long Fight Ahead

It’s been a long and expensive year since the filing of misdemeanor charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Some very basic issues – where to hold the trial, what judge should hear the case, what evidence can be presented – are still unresolved.

And they may not be for many months.

“As we approach the anniversary of the charges being filed, it is clear that there is no end in sight,” said Jason Brown, a spokesman for the Snyder legal team. “That means, there is no limit to the millions of dollars in costs that are mounting on top of more than $30 million already spent by the taxpayers on this bungled and politically driven charade – that is real money diverted from the real needs of Michiganders who are in need of services to help their families and businesses.”

Here is a summary of the issues:

Venue: Two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty were filed in Genesee County, where Flint is located, with District Court Judge William H. Crawford presiding. Gov. Snyder pled not guilty to both charges, which each carry a fine of $1,000. His defense team has challenged whether the case should be heard in Flint. Defense lawyers argued that Gov. Snyder’s authority to act – and therefore where he could be criminally charged for not acting – was in the state capitol in Lansing, not Flint. The lawyers also argued Gov. Snyder could not get a fair hearing in Flint because the prosecution claimed everyone in Flint was a victim to some extent, which would include the judge and prospective members of the jury, which will be drawn from Flint residents. Judge Crawford denied the motion; however, his decision has been appealed. A decision on the appeal is expected by Judge F. Kay Behm, of the 7th Circuit Court, sometime in 2022.

Evidence: This is the most complicated issue. Millions of documents and government records have been seized by the prosecution as evidence. The defense has argued that the prosecution should have set up a “taint team” to sift through the documents to ensure protected correspondence (such as communications between the defendant and counsel) are kept private. The defense teams of Gov. Snyder and other members of his administration who are facing related charges have sought to have the courts protect their clients’ due process rights (and ultimately the rights of any person who could be charged in any case). Judge Elizabeth Kelly, also of the 7th Circuit Court, agreed and ruled in November that the prosecution must now set up a “taint team” to review evidence.  The prosecution asked Judge Kelly to reconsider, but last week she denied their motion for reconsideration.  It remains unclear how the Court will address the fact that members of the prosecuting team have already reviewed protected information. The prosecution argued that a taint team would add three years and $48 million dollars to the prosecution. It is unclear whether the prosecution will follow Judge Kelly’s order or appeal the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Costs: The state of Michigan is obligated to pay for the costs of state employees who face charges for work while employed by the state. This includes Gov. Snyder. The total price tag of the prosecution and defense team costs just for the Gov. Snyder case will run into the millions of dollars (and the total costs for all the charges associated with the Flint water issue could exceed $100 million and take many more years to complete).

In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal concluded by saying the state should re-think its approach to the fruitless effort and that the case against Gov, Snyder “should be bounced out of court.”