Environmental Law

Former Michigan governor is charged in Flint water crisis; is conviction a longshot?

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Flint water plant

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Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect in decisions that caused lead to contaminate the water supply for Flint, Michigan.

The charges cite an April 25, 2014, offense, which is the date that water officials switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. Officials didn’t treat the corrosive water to prevent lead from leaching into the water.

The Detroit Free Press, MLive.com, the New York Times and Law360 are among the publications with coverage.

Snyder had appointed emergency financial managers for Flint that made the decision to switch the water source and had appointed directors of state departments overseeing health and environmental quality, according to MLive.com.

The Detroit Free Press spoke with three criminal defense lawyers who said prosecution could be difficult given the passage of time. They suggested that restitution could be the aim.

Since no felony charges were brought, “restitution would be the objective,” St. Clair Shores attorney Craig Tank told the Detroit Free Press. “Everyone in the state of Michigan recognizes that the man has deep pockets.”

Snyder’s lawyer, Brian Lennon, gave statements to MLive.com and Law360. He said there is no evidence to support criminal charges, but it was difficult to comment because he had not seen the charges.

He told Law360 that the charges are a “political escapade,” and the prosecution “clearly needs a scapegoat after wasting five years and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a fruitless investigation.”

According to the New York Times, 15 state and local officials have already been charged with crimes in the water crisis. Seven pleaded guilty, and eight are awaiting trial.

In August, the state of Michigan agreed to pay $600 million to settle claims by Flint residents and businesses in connection with the lead exposure.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Who’s to blame for poisoning of Flint’s water?”

ABAJournal.com: “Lawsuit claiming EPA negligence in Flint water crisis can move forward, judge says”

ABAJournal.com: “All charges dropped in Flint water case with promise of continuing investigation”

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