Charges against ex-Gov. Snyder can go forward in Genesee County, judge rules

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Misdemeanor charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder over his handling of the Flint water crisis can proceed in Genesee County, 67th District Judge William Crawford ruled Thursday.

The Republican former governor's defense attorneys had sought to have the two counts of willful neglect of duty dismissed because they contended the charges should have been brought in Ingham County, where the governor's office was located.

But Crawford rejected the arguments Thursday, denying requests to quash the indictment and dismiss the case immediately before evidence heard by a one-judge grand jury has even been released. The judge said he wasn't comfortable ruling that there's no possibility of evidence that would indicate that Genesee County was the appropriate venue for the allegations.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder walks past the media after his video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 outside the Genesee County Jail in downtown Flint.

"There are a number of instances in state law where venue is appropriate in more than one county," Crawford said during a short Thursday court session.

Snyder's defense team vowed to appeal the ruling.

"While we are disappointed in the decision, it does not change the fact that this case is politically motivated, false and completely flawed," the former governor's defense attorneys said in a statement.

"We stand by our claim that there is no legal basis for filing these charges in Genesee County, and we will be filing a timely appeal with the Circuit Court on our motion to dismiss the case," the statement continued.

According to statutes, the state Legislature "does not want strict adherence to territorial boundaries applied to nebulous concepts" of judicial venue in a way that "impedes justice," Crawford said.

If the charges were brought in Ingham County, a jury could be confused if the evidence shows actions should have been taken in Genesee County, the judge said.

"It may be appropriate for the attorney general to pick her poison so to speak under these circumstances," the judge added.

Brian Lennon, Snyder's attorney, has said Attorney General Dana Nessel's office hadn't established Genesee County as the proper venue. Lennon had argued that the charges should be dismissed because the alleged acts of wrongdoing occurred in Ingham County, where Snyder's executive office was located.

But Bryant Osikowicz, Michigan assistant attorney general, had countered that Lennon's arguments were premature. When the grand jury's records are released, questions about the venue would be answered, Osikowicz said.

Each of the misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty carries a penalty of up to one year behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000.

A grand jury has authorized a combined 41 charges against nine individuals in connection to the Flint water crisis as part of an investigation by Nessel's office. The charges were publicly announced on Jan. 14.

One of the counts of willful neglect of duty against the former governor says Snyder 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 state-appointed emergency managers who were in place in Flint and working under Snyder. Two of them also face charges.