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State lawyers to appeal dismissals of Flint water crisis criminal charges

flint water tower
Eight years after Flint’s water crisis began, it remains unclear whether anyone in public office at the time will face a criminal trial. (Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com)
  • A circuit court judge earlier this month had dismissed charges against seven Flint criminal defendants
  • Prosecutors argue the judge erred, and the charged should proceed to preliminary exams
  • A lawyer for one Flint defendant called the appeal a “waste”

State prosecutors will appeal a judge’s dismissal of criminal charges tied to the Flint water crisis, they announced Tuesday. 

The move follows Genesee Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Kelly’s dismissal earlier this month of criminal charges against seven defendants involved in the 2014 water supply switch that triggered Flint’s yearslong water crisis.

In a brief statement announcing the intent to appeal, prosecutors in the Michigan Attorney General’s Office said court proceedings so far have been “a challenge to the process, not the merits of the case.” They argued the charges should be remanded for preliminary examination, rather than dismissed.

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“The prosecution is ready to present their case and looks forward to seeing the people of Flint have their day in court,” the team stated.

Kelly dismissed the charges after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in June that state prosecutors could not rely on a secretive one-person grand jury to indict Flint defendants. Michigan is one of three states that still use a one-person grand jury, in which prosecutors present evidence in secret to a single judge, who then decides on charges. 

The 6-0 Supreme Court majority wrote that Flint defendants were entitled to preliminary exams where they could learn what charges they face, challenge evidence and prepare a defense. 

That handed the case to circuit court, where Kelly concluded that “the charging process was invalid from its inception,” making it improper to proceed with preliminary examinations.

“Simply put,” Kelly wrote, “there are no valid charges to remand.”

It was a blow to Attorney General Dana Nessel, who had thrown out earlier Flint charges soon after taking office in 2019 and relaunched the state’s criminal probe with Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy leading. After presenting evidence to a one-person jury, the pair announced charges last year against former Gov. Rick Snyder and eight others

A challenge by former Snyder administration Health Director Nick Lyon, who faced the most serious charges, partly prompted the Supreme Court ruling that led to Kelly’s later dismissal of charges against Lyon and six other former officials.

They are: Former Michigan Department Health and Human Services employee Nancy Peeler; former MDHHS medical executive Eden Wells; Jarrod Agen and Richard Baird, who were top aides for former Gov. Rick Snyder; and former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley.

In a Tuesday interview with Bridge Michigan, Lyon’s attorney, John Bursch, called the planned appeal “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“The prosecution, from the beginning, has proceeded using an unconstitutional process,” Bursch said. “And that's exactly what the Michigan Supreme Court said. So why they think they would get a different result on an appeal is beyond me.”

Kelly’s dismissal order doesn’t apply to Snyder, who faces misdemeanor charges in Genesee District Court along with former Flint Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft. But the former governor’s attorneys have asked a judge to apply the “same law and logic” to dismiss the charges against him.

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