Flint’s water crisis charges invalid, Michigan Supreme Court rules

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Charges against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and other government officials linked to the Flint water crisis are to be dismissed due to issues with the prosecution which included a ‘grand jury of ‘one man,’ the state Supreme Court said Tuesday.

Last year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) appointed a panel of prosecutors to investigate whether crimes were committed when Flint’s water was contaminated with lead and possible Legionella bacteria, which can lead to several health problems, including Legionnaires’ disease. The prosecution eventually sought to indict Snyder for willful dereliction of duty, to which he pleaded not guilty.

In its opinion issued Tuesday, the Michigan Supreme Court said a “one-man grand jury” consisting of Genesee-based 7th Circuit Judge David Newblatt “considered the evidence behind closed doors and then issued indictments against the accused. [and] the defendants’ cases were assigned to a Genesee Circuit Court judge.

The court noted that defendants in single grand jury cases are entitled to a preliminary review before being brought to trial and that the single person grand jury is not allowed to issue a writ. accusation which would lead to criminal proceedings.

Laws allowing one-person grand juries have been enacted because police departments are sometimes unable to effectively enforce laws, the justices said, particularly when it comes to bribery of government officials.

The unanimous decision returns the case to the 7th Circuit Court.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth T. Clement recused herself because she had served as chief legal counsel to Snyder, who was charged with willful dereliction of duty in 2021, according to the Associated press.

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Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said the lawsuits against Snyder and others were “not over.”

“We relied on established law and the well-established one-man grand jury prosecution tool, used for decades, to bring charges against the nine defendants in the Flint water crisis. “Hammoud said in a statement. Tuesday press release. “We still believe these charges can and will be proven in court.”

Snyder’s legal team said in a statement to The Washington Post that “Nessel’s office has obviously mishandled these cases from the start.”

“As the Michigan Supreme Court makes clear, these lawsuits against Governor Snyder and the other defendants were never intended to seek justice for the citizens of Flint,” the statement said. “We will act immediately to dismiss all criminal charges against Governor Snyder based on today’s unequivocal and scathing Supreme Court decision.”

In a 2016 State of the State AddressSnyder apologized to the people of Flint, telling them that all forms of government had let them down and advising them that “the buck stops with me”.

Snyder is committed to solving the water crisis.

Residents had complained about the toxic water for more than a year before Snyder publicly acknowledged the water was contaminated, a Intercept and Detroit Metro Times investigation found.

Flint has replaced over 10,000 lead pipes. Gaining trust is more difficult.

Nick Lyon, a former director of the Department of Health and Human Services, was among the defendants in Tuesday’s decision. He said in a statement through his attorney, Chip Chamberlain, that the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision marked a “victory for public service” in the state.

“State employees should not be prosecuted or demonized for simply doing their job,” Lyon said. “It is a great injustice to allow politicians – acting in their own interests – to sacrifice public servants who fulfill their role in good faith in difficult circumstances.”

Former state health department director Nancy Peeler and former Snyder adviser Richard Baird have also been charged. Neither immediately responded to requests for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

The Supreme Court ruling also said the 7th Circuit Court made a number of errors, including denying defendants the right to seek remand.

The judges wrote that a preliminary inquiry is an essential screening device to ensure that there are grounds for a person to face criminal charges. Failure to do so undermines fundamental notions of fairness, the court wrote.

“The Crown cannot cut corners – here, by not allowing defendants a preliminary examination as guaranteed by law – in order to prosecute defendants more effectively,” the court said. “The criminal prosecution provides historical context for this important moment in history, and future generations will view the record as a critical and unbiased response to determining what happened in Flint.”

The city is still grappling with the effects of deadly contaminated river water that was sent to homes as part of a cost-saving measure. A dozen people died from an outbreak of Legionnaire’s in 2014, although a 2019 survey found the death toll was likely much higher.

Kim Bellware and Brady Dennis contributed to this report.


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