Editorial: Michigan’s Banana Republic Prosecution

Originally featured in The Wall Street Journal on June 30, 2022.

The prosecution of political opponents is a feature of banana republics that increasingly infects the U.S. A case in point is the prosecution of former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder in the Flint water case, which a unanimous state Supreme Court declared invalid this week.

Democrats claimed the former Governor and his staff ignored Flint’s problem with lead-tainted water, never mind that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency knew about it and did nothing. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel ordered Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to investigate the Flint fiasco.

In January 2021, Ms. Hammoud brought two misdemeanor charges against Mr. Snyder for willful neglect of duty, each punishable by up to a year in prison. Eight other public officials were indicted. All pleaded not guilty.

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Statement: Michigan Supreme Court Rules Indictments Against Gov. Rick Snyder and 7 Others Are Invalid

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled today that a judge had no authority to issue indictments in the Flint water criminal case. The charges against eight defendants including former Gov. Rick Snyder, Nancy Peeler, Rich Baird and Nick Lyon have been wiped out. A statement from Gov. Snyder’s legal counsel from Warner Norcross + Judd is below:

We applaud today’s decision from the Michigan Supreme Court, which leaves no doubt about how Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office egregiously mishandled these cases from the beginning. As the Michigan Supreme Court makes clear, these prosecutions of Governor Snyder and the other defendants were never about seeking justice for the citizens of Flint. Rather, Attorney General Nessel and her political appointee Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud staged a self-interested, vindictive, wasteful, and politically motivated prosecution. The people of Michigan will recall how Solicitor General Hammoud took to the stage at every opportunity to grandstand, but they now see the truth from Michigan’s highest court of law. We will be moving immediately to dismiss all criminal charges against Governor Snyder based on today’s unequivocal and scathing Supreme Court ruling.

AP: Court says indictments invalid in Flint water scandal

Originally published in AP on June 28, 2022.

DETROIT (AP) — A judge had no authority to issue indictments in the Flint water scandal, the Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday, wiping out charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and seven other people.

It’s an astonishing defeat for Attorney General Dana Nessel, who took office in 2019, got rid of a special prosecutor and put together a new team to investigate whether crimes were committed when lead contaminated Flint’s water system in 2014-15.

State laws “authorize a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and issue arrest warrants” as a one-person grand jury, the Supreme Court said.

“But they do not authorize the judge to issue indictments,” the court said in a 6-0 opinion.

In a money-saving move, Flint managers appointed by Snyder switched the city’s water source to the Flint River. State regulators said the river water didn’t need to be treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. That was a ruinous decision: Lead from old pipes flowed through the system for 18 months in the majority-Black city.

Flint Defendants: 1-Judge Grand Jury Bucks Separation Of Powers

Originally published in Gongwer on May 4, 2022.

The separation of powers doctrine and whether criminal defendants indicted by a single-judge grand jury have the right to a preliminary examination were two arguments that took center stage before the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The arguments centered on several attorneys representing former state officials charged in the Flint water crisis criminal proceedings who have said their clients’ rights were violated following indictments in the matter issued early 2021.

Overall, attorneys for former Governor Rick Snyder, former Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, DHHS subsection manager Nancy Peeler and top Snyder aide Richard Baird argued Wednesday that the grand jury process – one of several types of probable cause finding processes available to prosecutors – did not afford the defendants the right to a separate preliminary examination.

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Statement: May 4 Michigan Supreme Court Hearings

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments today about the right of Flint criminal case defendants Nancy Peeler, Rich Baird and Nick Lyon to have preliminary examinations in their cases, and the constitutionality of the one-person grand jury. Legal counsel for Gov. Rick Snyder filed an amicus brief and spoke during oral arguments. A statement from Gov. Snyder’s legal counsel from Warner Norcross + Judd is below:

We appreciate the Michigan Supreme Court’s consideration today. We believe the Attorney General’s Office’s handling of these cases raises very significant due process and constitutional questions that could impact all Michiganders. We look forward to the court’s decision.

You can read more about the hearings in the Associated Press here.

Editorial: End the Flint witch hunt

Originally featured in The Detroit News on March 19, 2022.

It’s time to end the partisan prosecution of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and members of his administration over their handling of the Flint water crisis. Attorney General Dana Nessel has dragged out and botched a case that increasingly gives the appearance that it’s politically motivated.

Nessel, a Democrat, and her office have mishandled multiple aspects of the proceedings, including sensitive attorney-client privileged documents.

Nessel last year charged Snyder with two counts of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. The attorney general is trying to make the case the former governor was negligent in his response to Flint’s lead contamination because his administration approved the water source switch to the Flint River from Detroit’s regional water authority.

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Flint Water Legal Costs Continue to Soar for Taxpayers

The soaring costs associated with efforts to prosecute former Gov. Rick Snyder were highlighted by two major news announcements associated with the proceedings in January.

The state’s Administrative Board has approved legal fees for Snyder to reach $2.5 million by January 2023. Additional legal expenses for other former state employees facing charges could bring that total cost to taxpayers to $5 million by the end of 2022.

Snyder has been charged with two misdemeanors carrying $1,000 fines each, with the presumption of no jail time or probation.

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Questions for Governor Whitmer’s State of the State

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is scheduled to make her State of the State address on Wednesday and there are a number of topics we can expect to hear about. These include COVID-19 impacts on the economy, health and education systems, plans for the nearly $8 billion Michigan received from the federal infrastructure bill, and progress in Benton Harbor’s water crisis, among other hot topics.

But there’s one topic that most likely won’t be brought up: State Attorney General Dana Nessel’s continued missteps in wasting millions of tax dollars on politically motivated charges against former Governor Rick Snyder and eight others.

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