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The Flint water crisis prosecution will proceed with its first criminal trial after former city Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose agreed in court Thursday to waive his preliminary exam hearing.

Attorney General Bill Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said Schuette hopes the trial will begin as early as this spring for Ambrose, who ran the day-to-day operations of Flint for the first four months of 2015 after being appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. He appeared in 67th District Court in Flint before Judge Nathaniel Perry with his attorney Steve Fishman.

Ambrose and his predecessor, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, were charged last year by Schuette with committing false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses, 20-year felonies.

They also each face a charge of misconduct in office, a five-year felony, and a one-year misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty. Earley is expected to appear next month for the start of his preliminary exam hearing.

The charges stem from when the city switched to the Flint River for drinking water in April 2014 and resulted in lead contamination after the water was not properly treated. Prosecutors also have alleged the switch from the Detroit area water system likely caused an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires' disease in 2014-2015.

Fishman could not be reached for comment.

Bitely declined to say how long negotiations took to agree on a waiving of the preliminary hearing, which could have taken months, and proceed to trial in Genesee County Circuit Court, which oversees criminal cases.

“He has been bound over and will proceed from there,” Bitely said.

The scheduling of the trial will depend on a number of factors, such as the availability of a court and prosecution and defense attorneys, she said.

“One of them is obviously accommodating the existing other litigation that’s actively going on,” Bitely said.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood has already held lengthy preliminary exam hearings for state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and state Health Executive Eden Wells that began last fall. Both are expected to wrap up soon before two different district court judges.

Preliminary exams are used to convince a judge that enough evidence of a crime exists to bound the case over for trial. Prosecutors have brought full-fledged cases to make sure that their efforts are not overturned on appeal or by a higher court.

Earlier this month, the prosecution team began preliminary hearings for four Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees. The water regulators are Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby and Patrick Cook as well as Liane Shekter Smith, the fired former head of the DEQ division responsible for overseeing Flint’s water source switch.

Hearings will resume next month.

Shekter Smith and Busch each had a charge of involuntary manslaughter added in June.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming

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