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Michigan Supreme Court again says no to Attorney General’s charges against Flint water defendants

The Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Mich.
Carlos Osorio
The Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Mich.

The Michigan Supreme Court has rejected a request by Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Flint prosecution team to reinstate criminal charges against seven prominent figures in the case that were earlier dismissed by a lower court.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has declined to reconsider a ruling that the attorney general’s office used an unconstitutional process to issue the indictments. The defendants include people who served as senior state health officials, Flint emergency managers and top aides to then-Governor Rick Snyder. An appeal is still pending against a separate decision that dismissed a misdemeanor charge against Snyder, but this decision could play a major role in the former governor’s defense.

The lawyer representing former Michigan health department director Nick Lyon called the court’s action “a victory for public health in Michigan” and hoped this would be the final word in the case against his client.

“State employees should not be prosecuted or demonized for just doing their job,” said attorney Chip Chamberlain. “It is a great injustice to allow politicians—acting in their own interests— to sacrifice government servants who are performing their roles in good faith under difficult circumstances.”

The attorney general’s office released a statementfrom the prosecution team that called the decision “deeply disappointing.”

“The Flint Water Crisis was not caused by an act of nature,” the statement said. “It resulted from the direct actions of a small group of people in power who chose financial savings for the State over the health of Flint residents, and then conspired to hide the truth from the public. We are deeply disappointed in the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The prosecution team, which is led by Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, also defended its use of a one-judge grand jury to issue the indictments. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last year that a one-judge grand jury can investigate, subpoena and issue arrest warrants but cannot unilaterally indict defendants.

In a statement released through the Michigan Attorney General’s office, the group said it will seek to unseal evidence used to support the charges.

“The Flint Water Prosecution Team will be exploring this matter with the legislature, prosecutorial partners, and others to take the necessary action to allow for the evidence to be shared with the public and the people of Flint, who most deserve to know the truth,” it said.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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