Snyder, other defendants allowed to appeal ruling forcing testimony in civil trial

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Former Gov. Rick Snyder and other Flint water criminal defendants can appeal a federal judge's ruling that they must testify in a Flint water civil lawsuit in a bid to avoid  incriminating themselves in their ongoing criminal cases.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy ruled Friday that lawyers for the former governor and other witnesses she wanted to testify can now avoid a contempt of court issue by appealing their case to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Levy had rejected their motions to quash subpoenas for their testimony, arguing that they had voluntarily testified in depositions in the civil lawsuit without invoking the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Rick Snyder

There is no guarantee, though, that the appeals court will even hear the appeals by the former governor, former top aide Rich Baird, former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, and former Flint public works director Howard Croft.

Last week, attorneys for Flint defendants made impassioned pleas that they could not have their clients testify given the criminal charges they face and possible self-incrimination that would lead to more charges.

Ordinarily, lawyers don't get to appeal a decision in a case until the case is over. They lobbied Levy to approve their "interlocutory appeal" or else they would be forced to advise their clients not to answer questions in court and risk a contempt citation so they could appeal to the Sixth Circuit.

Snyder was deposed for two days in the summer of 2020. Snyder, Baird and others would prefer that their deposition tapes be played in court and they be spared any further questions in a trial. 

The trial will determine if engineering contractors Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, known as LAN, bear responsibility for lead-contaminated water in Flint. The engineering firms have made it clear in the opening arguments of the trial they plan to pin the blame on state and Flint government officials motivated by "arrogance," "callousness" and "bureaucratic contempt" toward Flint. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office has charged Snyder with two misdemeanor courts of willful neglect of duty.

One count 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.

Baird was charged with perjury during an investigative subpoena investigation, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and extortion in relation to the Flint water case. Earley was charged with three counts of misconduct in office, while Ambrose was charged with four counts of misconduct in office.

Croft faces the same charges as Snyder — two counts of willful neglect.