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Judge to decide next month on $641M Flint settlement

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The federal judge overseeing a proposed $641 million settlement in the Flint water crisis civil litigation said she will decide by mid-January whether to approve the deal amid concerns from residents and some members of the Flint City Council that the amount is too low.

People protest the Flint water crisis outside of the Michigan State Capitol before the State of the State speech, January 19, 2016.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy made the announcement Monday after she met via Zoom with scores of attorneys involved in the landmark case following years of court hearings and negotiations. Her decision will be issued in writing, she said, but will allow time for others such as residents to express concerns about the agreement.

The money, which was increased to $41 million this fall, would largely go to victims of the water crisis that emerged after Flint residents learned their drinking water had been contaminated with lead after a source switch to river water in 2014. Levy called the proposed deal “among the most complex settlements I have ever seen.”

The attorneys involved in the case discussed with the judge the amount that would go to children affected by the lead crisis versus adults who were afflicted with Legionnaires’ disease.

Corey Stern, who represents 4,000 Flint residents, including 2,700 children, and helped negotiate the settlement, said the people in the room “all had different interests” but were able to come together for the city's citizens.

“I am the first to admit it is not perfect," Stern said. "It’s not. But it’s very, very good. And the reasons why it’s good is because regardless of what a small number of members of the Flint community might say, the amount of money that will flow to children in this settlement will forever change the trajectory of their lives.”

Stern said the proposed settlement would send nearly 80% of the $641 million to children affected by lead-tainted water. The remaining funds will go to the adults “in a community, which by its own accounting feels as though they were ravaged by the crisis” to the tune of $150 million, he said.

The city of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and city contractor Rowe Professional Services Co. have signed on to the agreement since the state and attorneys for residents reached an agreement in the summer.

The judge also discussed the appointment of an administrator to handle the claims adjustment process that will decide how much each resident in the settlement will receive.

Levy said the partial settlement does not resolve the other class-action lawsuits that have been filed against other defendants such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Veolia North America, an engineering firm that advised the city and state during the crisis.

Last week after two lengthy virtual meetings, the Flint City Council decided to postpone a vote on the city's $20 million portion of the state’s proposed settlement with the residents of Flint.

The city has until Dec. 31 to approve the $20 million payment. The state has said that the settlement will go forward with or without the council approving the money from its insurer. If the council supports the move, that would resolve the case against the city, the judge said.

“I will await word of whether the Flint City Council decides to participate or whether the city wishes to continue defending the actions of those who plaintiffs alleged caused this crisis, at least in part,” the judge said at the hearing.

Levy mentioned that residents could opt out of the proposed settlement.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming