Charges in Flint water crisis dropped against former governor, others: Michigan Supreme Court

The court said a judge had no authority to issue indictments

Charges against Michigan's former governor and others in the Flint water scandal must be dismissed after the state's Supreme Court said Tuesday that a judge did not have the ability to issue indictments under a century-old law. 

The court said in a 6-0 opinion that while state laws "authorize a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses and issue arrest warrants" as a one-judge grand jury, they "do not authorize the judge to issue indictments." 

The decision applies to former Gov. Rick Snyder and others who were indicted by Genesee County Judge David Newblatt. 

There was no immediate comment from Snyder’s legal team and the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel — who investigated whether crimes were committed when lead contaminated Flint's water system eight years ago — said it was reviewing the opinion. 

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Pictures of damaged pipes from Flint, a city that struggled with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, is seen as then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (2nd L) attended a meeting between local and federal authorities with former President Obama in Michigan, May 4, 2016. 

Pictures of damaged pipes from Flint, a city that struggled with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, is seen as then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (2nd L) attended a meeting between local and federal authorities with former President Obama in Michigan, May 4, 2016.  (REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo)

Nick Lyon, the former health director, filed the challenge. 

"This wasn’t even a close case — it was six-zip," Lyon attorney Chip Chamberlain said. "It was based on a plain reading of the statute. They couldn’t do what they tried to do."

A one-judge grand jury in Genesee County was used to hear evidence in secret and get indictments against Snyder and others

Fadwa Hammoud, who was assigned to lead the criminal investigation along with Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, reportedly did not follow a traditional process. 

The Flint Water Plant tower is seen in Flint, Michigan, U.S. on February 7, 2016. 

The Flint Water Plant tower is seen in Flint, Michigan, U.S. on February 7, 2016.  (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo)

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"It seems that the power of a judge conducting an inquiry to issue an indictment was simply an unchallenged assumption, until now," the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

After Snyder's managers switched the city's water source to the Flint River — with regulators saying the water did not need to be treated — lead flowed through the city for's system for 18 months.  

Lead can damage the brain and nervous system, leading to learning and behavior problems. 

This screen shot from video, shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, during his Zoom hearing in the 67th District Court in Flint, Mich., on Jan. 18, 2020.

This screen shot from video, shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, during his Zoom hearing in the 67th District Court in Flint, Mich., on Jan. 18, 2020. (67th District Court in Flint via AP, file)

Snyder was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty. The Republican governor served from 2011 through 2018.

Lyon and Michigan’s former chief medical executive were charged with involuntary manslaughter for nine deaths related to Legionnaires’ disease.

Six others were also indicted on various charges.

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Michigan has separately agreed to shell out $600 million to property owners and residents in Flint.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.