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Ex-Gov. Snyder's attorney: Flint is 'improper venue' for charges

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

An attorney for former Gov. Rick Snyder argued in court Tuesday that Flint isn't the proper venue to bring misdemeanor charges against the two-term Republican governor for his handling of the city's water crisis.

Attorney Brian Lennon said in a letter to Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud that defendants usually should be tried in the county where the purported crime was committed. During a pretrial conference Tuesday morning, Lennon said the governor's indictment was "fatally flawed."

"At all times set forth in the indictment, our client was the presiding governor of the state of Michigan with the executive office of the governor located at the Romney Building in downtown Lansing," Lennon wrote in his letter. "Consequently, the proper venue is in the City of Lansing located in Ingham County — not the City of Flint."

The letter was attached to a discovery request that was filed in court Tuesday morning. The letter references an upcoming motion to dismiss Snyder's indictment.

"We’re trying to give the government an opportunity to recognize this mistake and voluntarily dismiss the indictment against Gov. Snyder," Lennon said during a pretrial conference.

67th District Court Judge William Crawford heard brief arguments about the matters before deciding to give the attorneys time to discuss them.At about 10:30 a.m., Crawford set another conference for Feb. 23.

Bryant Osikowicz, Michigan assistant attorney general, didn't directly address the claim about the venue made by Lennon. Osikowicz initially requested another court date so his team could see the motion and respond to it.

Snyder appeared only briefly via Zoom during Tuesday's conference.

On Thursday, Attorney General Dana Nessel's office revealed 41 charges against nine state and city officials, who face a wide array of allegations tied to the lead-contaminated water crisis that resulted after Flint switched its water source on April 25, 2014 — a date listed on the indictment against Snyder.

The former governor led Michigan for eight years from 2011 through the end of 2018. His slogan was "relentless positive action," but he now faces two counts of willful neglect of duty. The misdemeanor counts carry a penalty of one year behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appears during a virtual court hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

"As the evidence comes out, it will be plain for everybody to see why, in fact, charges were absolutely necessary in this case," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said during a press conference last week.  "So it goes far beyond just failing to supervise or someone making a mistake on your staff. Far beyond."

One of the counts against the governor says he failed to declare a state of emergency or disaster, although he was notified of a threat of an emergency or disaster in Flint. Snyder did eventually declare a state of emergency in January 2016 — three months after he had Flint shift its water source back to Detroit's regional water system.

The other count says Snyder failed to inquire into "the performance, condition and administration" of officers whom he appointed and was required to supervise under the state constitution. Legal experts say this likely refers to the emergency managers who were in place in Flint and working under Snyder. Two of them also face charges.

cmauger@detroitnews.com