Tempers flare at Flint settlement hearing, but no timeline for ruling

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

In the third and final hearing this week, lawyers sparred over whether the $641 million settlement in the Flint water crisis rightfully allocates money to lawyers or if a new agreement should be drafted. 

U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy of Michigan's Eastern District oversaw the hearings and said she will take all the motions "under advisement" and reach a decision "as quickly and efficiently and carefully" as possible. But she didn't give any expected time for a decision after she gave preliminary approval to the settlement in January.

Frank Bednarz of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute was among the lawyers who made arguments before Federal Judge Judith Levy about the proposed $641 million Flint water settlement, including a proposed $202 million for attorneys. The institute is seeking a reduction in the attorney fees.

Tempers flared during the six-hour Zoom hearing, mainly over how much the lawyers will be paid. They have requested $202 million in all. 

One lawyer said he missed his children's sports games and anniversaries to fight for his Flint clients and that he has not received a dollar for the five years of work. 

"What I'll do is take all of the motions under advisement, continue to do some research, to the extent I think additional briefing is helpful, I will issue an order, requesting additional briefing," Levy said Thursday. 

The main focus of the three-day hearings was the lawyer fees, according to Frank Bednarz of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, the organization leading the charge to lessen or remove the fees from the original lawyers. 

New York attorney Paul Napoli, who represents individual clients, accused Bednarz of being funded by corporations such as oil and tobacco companies that are seeking to prevent the class-action suit. 

Corey Stern, who represents over 2,500 affected children on an individual basis, said his team of lawyers put in a combined 182,000 hours of work into negotiating the settlement with the the state of Michigan and city of Flint. That is equal to 20 years, he said.

Levy gave preliminary approval to the settlement in January, allowing Flint residents to file claims for the money. Over 85,000 did so, and the state is verifying the claims. 

The hundreds of millions of dollars seek to pay for damages from the water crisis that began in 2014, leading to over 9,000 children being exposed to highly dangerous levels of lead.

“The conclusion of the Flint fairness hearing is the culmination of my civil team’s tireless work to reach this historic settlement,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “As state leaders, we owe them a successful settlement and I remain hopeful the agreement will receive final approval to bring much-needed relief to the people of Flint.”