Flint water criminal cases get 2017 court dates

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — Several current and former state employees facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in the city’s water crisis will not face preliminary examinations until 2017, nearly three years from when the city’s water problems began.

Four of those charged were in 67th District Court on Wednesday for probable cause conferences: Liane Shekter Smith, former head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, DEQ employee Michael Prysby and Corinne Miller, who retired in April as director of the Bureau of Epidemiology, as well as Flint water utility administrator Michael Glasgow.

Also charged in the Flint water crisis are: DEQ water quality officials Patrick Cook and Adam Rosenthal, DEQ employee Stephen Busch and Department of Health and Human Services officials Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott.

On Wednesday, Judge Jennifer J. Manley set preliminary exam dates for DEQ defendants for March 13, and April 3 for DHHS workers. Busch and Prysby will have preliminary exams on Jan. 18.

All face charges centering on an alleged failure to perform their roles in protecting public health.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood told the media on Wednesday that he expects he “would be done with trial by next year” under his current litigation plan.

“My goal is to get this processed, going through and coming to a close in that time, but you never know,” he said. “You open up one door and you find five more you have to open up.”

On Wednesday, Miller had her case rescheduled for a pretrial hearing for 10 a.m. Sept. 14. She left the courtroom with her attorney without comment.

Glasgow’s case was set for review by Dec. 14. He struck a plea deal with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in May. Manley took the plea under advisement, but has delayed her decision on whether to accept it.

Flood said he and his special Flint investigative team met with Glasgow “on a number of occasions and has been in constant contact,” noting Glasgow has complied with the state Attorney General’s Office’s terms.

Glasgow’s attorney, Robert Harrison, stated after Wednesday’s hearing that he “still doesn’t know why he (his client) was charged.”

The attorneys for Prysby, former supervising district engineer for the Office of Drinking Water at the DEQ, and Busch, a district engineer, noted hundreds of thousands of documents have been generated during the discovery process.

“There’s a lot of discovery so for some people that are coming in it’s more of an issue than for those who have been on the case early on who are ahead of the game,” attorney Frank Reynolds said.

Flood explained as much as 60 percent of the documents may be duplicates.

“If I get one email, that email may be reproduced 16 times in my discovery,” he said.

Flint’s crisis began soon after the city — while under the control of an emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder — began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014. Originally conceived as a cost-saving move, the switch to river water backfired when state and local officials failed to add chemicals to prevent line corrosion and lead contamination.

Residents immediately began complaining of taste and smell issues with the water. Roughly a year ago, researchers began to uncover high levels of lead in the water as well as in the blood work of local children.

In October, Flint returned to its historic water provider — now known as the Great Lakes Water Authority — in the hopes of getting potable tap water to its residents. The water quality has improved, but progress has been slow and residents continue to use filtered or bottled water.