Snyder, Schuette seek $2.7M for Flint legal fees, probe
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking up to $1.2 million in taxpayer funds for legal fees related to the Flint water crisis, and Attorney General Bill Schuette is seeking at least $1.5 million for his probe, according to requests preliminarily approved Tuesday by a state board committee.
The full State Administrative Board is set to consider the contracts on March 15.
Snyder’s office is requesting up to $800,000 as part of an agreement with Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP of Grand Rapids for legal services, including “records management issues and investigations regarding municipal drinking water” in Flint, according to an agenda summary.
The administration also seeks up to $400,000 as part of an agreement with the Barris, Scott, Denn & Driker law firm of Detroit for work in civil lawsuits filed on behalf of Flint residents, who have sued the governor in addition to other state officials and departments.
Snyder spokesman Ari Adler told The Detroit News last week that the firms would each be paid around $249,000 through the end of the year.
The contracts were expanded, he said Tuesday, in anticipation of “billing for work already completed and the workload as we look ahead at the processing of all emails and documents” related to public records requests, the discovery phase of various lawsuits and requests in the attorney general’s investigation.
Between the executive office and state departments, “we have an enormous amount of data to go through,” said Adler, who said the state was “unable to complete the work in a timely manner without outside assistance.”
“This work is being done to ensure that state government is being transparent, so the use of tax dollars is appropriate,” he said.
Separately, Schuette submitted a $1.5 million request for Special Prosecutor Todd Flood and a team of more than 20 attorneys and investigators who are working on the case, according to a copy of the contract provided by the attorney general’s office. Flood and nine other special assistant attorneys general will earn $400 per hour. Chief investigators Andrew Arena and Ellis Stafford will earn $165 an hour.
Due to “the sensitive nature of the work being formed,” the contract specifies that the investigatory team will maintain a secure computer system separate from the state and Flood Law LLC.
“The Attorney General is running an independent, broad-based investigation team that will leave no stone unturned,” Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said.
“That is what the citizens of Flint, and Michigan as a whole, want and deserve. With a crisis of this magnitude making families’ daily lives a struggle and shaking the trust of citizens in their government, we will not do a half-baked investigation on the cheap. We will get answers.”
Both contracts drew criticism from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint.
“Paying more for high-priced lawyers than we are for school nurses or fully refunding victims is another kick in the teeth to taxpayers and my community,” Ananich said in a statement. “Our priority should be sending every resource we can to removing pipes and protecting kids, not covering legal fees.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said it was “outrageous that that Snyder wants to take $1.2 million from Michigan taxpayers to pay for defense attorneys over his involvement in the poisoning of Flint's water.”
That money should be spent replacing lead pipes and providing safe water in Flint, Dillon said.
He also criticized the attorney general’s contract and questioned the independence of the investigation because Flood has previously contributed to political campaigns for Schuette and Snyder, who are both Republicans. Records show Flood also contributed to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Republicans fired back at Dillon Tuesday afternoon, pointing to a weekend fundraising email from the Michigan Democratic Party focused on the Flint water crisis.
That is what’s “outrageous,” said Michigan GOP spokesman Sarah Anderson. “Brandon Dillon and his fellow Democrats need to stop trying to raise money off this crisis.”