Bankruptcy judge gets involved in Flint water record dispute

Ed White
Associated Press

Detroit — The Flint water criminal case involving former Gov. Rick Snyder took a strange side trip Wednesday into bankruptcy court where his lawyers asked a judge to penalize state attorneys for distributing confidential documents from Detroit’s historic financial restructuring.

The documents were related to private talks between Detroit, the state and creditors while the city was trying to emerge from bankruptcy in 2014. Snyder’s administration played a key role in groundbreaking deals.

Armed with a search warrant in 2019, prosecutors in the attorney general’s office obtained documents from computer servers controlled by other state attorneys who had represented Snyder in matters related to Flint’s lead-contaminated water.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, rear, walks out from the Genesee County Jail alongside his attorney after a video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in downtown Flint, Mich.

The search apparently swept up sensitive documents from the Detroit bankruptcy as well as attorney-client communications of other state officials, Snyder attorney Charles Ash said.

“There has been a massive breach. … We don’t know how this happened and don’t really know the full extent of the problem,” Ash told bankruptcy Judge Thomas Tucker.

The records were given to other people charged with crimes in the Flint water scandal because prosecutors have an obligation to share documents with defense lawyers.

In response, John VanDeventer, chief counsel to the attorney general, told the judge that the problem can be cured by telling all parties that the records must remain confidential.

“The department believes this motion has little to do with the protection of sensitive information and everything to do with bringing the Flint water criminal prosecution to a halt,” VanDeventer said.

Snyder, who served as governor until 2019, faces misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty.

Flint, while under the control of Snyder-appointed managers, used the Flint River for drinking water in 2014-15 without properly treating it to reduce corrosion. Lead leached from old pipes and contaminated the system.