Lawyer: Prosecutor created ‘sideshow’ to malign Snyder

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Defense attorneys for Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon are accusing special prosecutor Todd Flood of intentionally creating a political “sideshow” to publicly malign Gov. Rick Snyder.

The attorneys are asking Genesee County Judge David Goggins to strike video of Snyder’s congressional committee testimony on the Flint water crisis from the court record in Lyon’s manslaughter trial, calling it “irrelevant” to the case.

Flood introduced the video during Lyon’s preliminary exam after Snyder’s urban initiatives director Harvey Hollins contradicted the governor’s sworn testimony over when he first learned about a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint region.

Hollins testified he told Snyder about the outbreak in December 2015. Snyder had said he first learned about it in January 2016. The conflicting time lines dominated headlines and prompted congressional committee leaders to demand an explanation from Snyder.

But the Republican governor’s March 2016 testimony has “nothing to do with Mr. Lyon,” his attorneys wrote in a court document. “What the testimony of Governor Snyder was in fact offered for was to make the governor look bad.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office declined comment Friday. Flood works for Schuette as a special prosecutor on the attorney general’s Flint investigatory team.

Lyon is accused of involuntary manslaughter and in the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore and misconduct in office for failing to warn the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ in the Flint region.

Skidmore contracted Legionnaires’ in May 2015, according to Lyon’s attorneys. Skidmore’s death certificate said he died Dec. 13, 2015, from “end stage congestive heart failure.”

“What the governor knew in January 2016 versus December 2015 has zero relationship materially to whether Mr. Lyon breached some unspecified duty causing Mr. Skidmore to contract Legionnaires’ disease earlier in 2015,” they wrote.

Snyder has stuck by Lyon, keeping him and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells on the job despite criminal charges levied against both by Schuette and Flood.

The governor also stood by his time line on when he first learned about the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

“My testimony was truthful,” Snyder wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland. “I have specifically reviewed the question and answer referenced in your letter. While you have offered for me to clarify my sworn testimony, I do not believe there is any reason to do so.”

The oversight panel had asked Snyder to explain the “discrepancy in recollection” between his testimony and Hollins’. In their letter, Gowdy and Cummings outlined the criteria for perjury charges but did not directly accuse Snyder of lying under oath.

Cummings last week renewed his call to subpoena Snyder and accused him of “obstructing” the committee’s investigation of the Flint water crisis. A spokeswoman said the governor’s office does not respond to “political press releases” but said Snyder has cooperated fully with committee requests.

Flood introduced Snyder’s testimony during the Lyon’s hearing “with the intent and result of creating a media blitz” unrelated to the case, according to Lyon’s attorneys from Willey and Chamberlain firm in Grand Rapids.

They’re not asking Groggins to strike Hollins’ time line, only the playback of the governor’s testimony and subsequent questions about it.

“Neither the court nor Mr. Lyon and his defense team should have to play any role in political theater that is unrelated to the charges against Mr. Lyon,” they said.