DETROIT – A judge on Thursday rejected a request to dismiss misdemeanor charges against a former Michigan governor in the Flint water scandal.
Lawyers for Rick Snyder said he worked in Ingham County, not Genesee County, so the indictment from a one-person grand jury was returned in the wrong place. But Judge William Crawford II said prosecutors have flexibility about where to pursue a case.
If the former Republican governor goes to trial, a jury will be asked to determine if charges of willful neglect of duty occurred in the boundaries of Flint and Genesee County, Crawford said.
The attorney general's office has “intimate knowledge” of what the investigation revealed and where, the judge said.
“The state Legislature does not want strict adherence to territorial boundaries applied to nebulous concepts of venue," especially if it could "impede justice,” Crawford said.
Snyder's attorneys plan to appeal. It's the first of what will be many aggressive challenges to an unprecedented case against a sitting or former Michigan governor for alleged acts while in office.
Snyder, who served until 2019, is charged with failing to timely declare an emergency in Flint, which used the Flint River for drinking water in 2014-15 without properly treating it to reduce corrosion. Lead in old pipes contaminated the system over 18 months.
Experts also blamed high bacteria levels in the water for a spike in Legionnaires’ disease.
The indictment accuses Snyder of violating the state constitution by failing to check the performance of public officials under his control. The catastrophe in the majority-Black city has been described as environmental racism.
The judge noted that the water switch was hatched when Flint was under the thumb of Snyder-appointed managers who had sweeping powers to fix the city's poor finances.
“Today’s ruling is a small victory for the people of Flint who patiently await their day in court,” said Fadwa Hammoud, a leader of the prosecution team.
Eight other people face charges in Flint, including two former state health officials who are accused of involuntary manslaughter in nine deaths linked to Legionnaires’ disease.
Outside court, Snyder's attorney, Brian Lennon, repeated his claim that the case is driven by politics.
"The governor cares deeply for those affected by Flint’s water problems, and while in office, did everything in his power to help address them as facts and information became known,” Lennon said.
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