Lawyer: Schuette’s publicity hurts Flint defendants

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — An attorney representing one of the Flint water crisis defendants criticized the state prosecutors Monday for stoking the fires and trying the case in public before it even goes to trial.

James White, who represents former Flint director of public works Howard Croft, said he was concerned about Attorney General Bill Schuette’s news conference last week announcing more charges in the case amid heavy media coverage with another release of mug shots of his client and others.

Schuette filed charges of involuntary manslaughter — punishable by 15 years in prison — against Croft, state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former emergency manager Darnell Earley, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and state Water Supervisor Stephen Busch.

“The pretrial publicity in this case is becoming prejudicial to Mr. Croft, and I would argue the other defendants as well, although I have not asked for them to join in on this particular motion,” White told 67th District Court Judge Nathaniel Perry III following a probable cause conference.

At the conference, attorneys for almost all of the defendants including Earley complained about the slow crawl of documents coming to them from prosecutors. Attorneys for Lyon and Michigan Chief Medical Officer Eden Wells, who was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a special agent, did not attend the Monday conference meeting after attending a Thursday arraignment hearing.

Although mug shots are not unusual in a case like this, said White, whose client is also accused of felony false pretense and conspiracy to commit false pretenses. “Our concern is that these mug shots were released six months after the charges. We find that timing ... suspect.”

Croft’s lawyer also took aim at Schuette's news conference last week as “a carnival-like atmosphere” with a Flint water tower mural as a backdrop.

The photos served one purpose, he said, “and that was to inflame this community, to inflame a potential juror pool and prejudiced Mr. Croft.”

Todd Flood, Schuette’s special prosecutor who appeared on behalf of the state, said “there are no winners” in this case and he had nothing to “do with mug shots.”

But Flood said he, too, doesn't want a potential jury to be inflamed.

“They are public,” he told the court. “I’m going to follow the rules of ethics. If someone asks questions, I never divulge anything that’s outside, inside the realm of the investigation.”

Perry didn't rule on the motion but said he is open to monitoring the situation going forward.