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Ex-Gov. Rick Snyder, 4 others charged in Flint water crisis must testify

 Rick Snyder
Former Gov. Rick Snyder will testify in a civil trial brought on by four Flint children claiming two engineering firms’ negligence during the water crisis harmed their development and health. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING—Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and four other government officials charged with crimes related to the Flint water crisis have to testify in a related civil lawsuit despite their efforts to avoid subpoenas, a U.S. District Court judge ruled on Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Judith E. Levy concluded that Snyder, his former advisor Richard Baird, former Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft and two former city emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, waived their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination by previously giving deposition testimony in the civil suit.

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Snyder and the government officials will therefore have to testify in a civil trial brought by four children from Flint against two engineering companies involved in the water crisis. Attorneys for the officials had argued that the Fifth Amendment entitles them to blanket immunity from any questions during the civil trial.

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Levy acknowledged in her 21-page opinion that Snyder and the four officials — who are under criminal indictment for their actions, or inactions, in Flint —  “ordinarily would be entitled to their silence.” But their previous testimony in the civil case changed the calculus, the judge said.  

“At issue in these motions is therefore only whether they have waived part or all of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by voluntarily testifying during their civil depositions,” Levy wrote. “Each of the movants voluntarily testified during the deposition phase of this case, and now wishes to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination on the same subject matter. They cannot do so.”

Judge Levy will hold a hearing on March 25 to further address defendants’ claims. 

The civil trial began in late February following a jury selection for a case brought by four Flint children against engineering companies Veolia North American and Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam — who are accused of negligence for their alleged role in allowing the city’s drinking water to be tainted by lead. The companies advised the city of Flint on how it should operate its water system after it was forced to switch to its emergency source in April 2014.

In their claim, attorneys for the four children contend the companies’ advice led to the children consuming lead-tainted water that permanently impacted their development. In court filings, both companies deny wrongdoing and contend their actions did not contribute to any harm suffered by the children.  

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In November, Levy approved a $626 million settlement in the Flint water crisis against the state, city, McLaren Regional Hospital and engineering firm Rowe Professional Service. Veolia North American and Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam were not part of that settlement. 

Snyder faces two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty in Genesee District Court. Baird, Snyder’s former advisor, faces charges of extortion, obstruction of justice, misconduct and perjury. 

As for the former emergency managers, Earley faces three counts of misconduct while in office and Croft was charged with two counts of willful neglect. 

Each of the former officials has denied the allegations. 

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