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A judge has removed the Michigan Attorney General’s Office as legal counsel for current and former employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who are being sued by Flint residents over contaminated drinking water.

In an order issued Thursday, U.S. Judge John Corbett O’Meara approved removing three assistant attorneys general who were listed as counsel for former DEQ staffers Daniel Wyant, Liane Shekter Smith and Bradley Wurfel and current staff members Adam Rosenthal, Stephen Busch, Patrick Cook and Michael Prysby.

As part of the order, O’Meara said the Attorney General’s Office may continue representing Gov. Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan in the case, contingent on obtaining conflict-of-interest waivers from each of the MDEQ defendants.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette had asked the judge to remove his office from representation, saying the office cannot legally defend both Snyder and individual DEQ employees in the case because of a “potential conflict of interest.”

Schuette wrote in a court filing, “As the issues surrounding the situation in Flint have unfolded, particularly in the last week, it has become apparent that there is a potential conflict of interest between the governor and state of Michigan on the one hand, and the individual MDEQ employees on the other.

“Given this conflict, counsel have determined it is likely they cannot effectively represent both sets of clients.”

Schuette has said the former and current DEQ employees would have special attorneys, paid for by the state, just not members of his office.

Four Flint families filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Nov. 13 against the governor, state officials and Flint, seeking class-action status.

In that 30-page civil complaint, the families allege that tens of thousands of residents have experienced and will continue to experience “serious personal injury and property damage” caused by the “defendants’ deliberate decision to expose them to the extreme toxicity of water.”

The lawsuit alleges Snyder and the other defendants, “acting under the color of law, deliberately deprived” Flint residents of the rights and guarantees under the 14th Amendment when they “took safe drinking water from them and replaced it with what they knew to be a highly toxic alternative solely for fiscal purposes.”

JChambers@detroitnews.com

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