Schuette seeks approval of extra $3.4M for Flint probe

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The cost of Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation of Flint’s water contamination crisis is set to more than triple as he seeks approval from a state board for an extra $3.4 million to pay private attorneys and investigators.

The additional $3.4 million will bring Schuette’s costs to $4.9 million for a wide-ranging probe of how government agencies at multiple levels failed to ensure Flint’s water was safe to drink when the city pumped drinking water from the Flint River from April 2014 to October 2015.

The State Administrative Board’s finance and claims committee on Tuesday approved Schuette’s request for the additional $3.4 million to the Flood Law, PLLC in Royal Oak.

The full Administrative Board will vote July 12 on Schuette’s request to increase the contract to up to $4.9 million, according to a meeting agenda.

Schuette defended the cost of Flood and nearly two dozen attorneys and investigators working on the case.

“The point is, you’re not going to do justice on the cheap,” Schuette said during a Tuesday interview with Capitol reporters. “The amount of money that we are expending to provide justice and truth and accountability is very small compared to the harm and the magnitude that people have experienced.”

The state of Michigan’s legal bills for Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis are mounting in other areas of state government.

Gov. Rick Snyder has contracts with two private law firms totaling $1.2 million to represent his office in the Flint water investigations and litigation.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said Tuesday the governor’s office expects to need more money to pay for the private attorneys.

“We do anticipate a future increase in the amount for both contracts, but are still working with the firms on cost estimates, so we don’t have an idea of what an increase would be at this point,” Heaton said in an email.

The law firm Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP of Grand Rapids received an initial contract of $800,000 to represent Snyder’s office in the criminal investigations of the Flint crisis as well as managing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that have been publicly released this year.

The Detroit law firm Barris, Scott, Denn & Driker is representing Snyder in scores of civil lawsuits filed against the governor over Flint’s lead-tainted water supply. That law firm was initially awarded a $400,000 contract.

Snyder’s office used a state contracting 2011 rule change that allows governor-approved contracts for services to bypass the seven-member State Administrative Board, whose members include the governor and attorney general.

For Schuette’s new $3.4 million request, half of the money would come from the state’s general fund for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1; the other half would come from a fund of lawsuit settlement proceeds, according to the Administrative Board’s agenda.

The new $4.9 million total includes $2.3 million from the current fiscal year and $2.6 million for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said.

About $800,000 of the $2.3 million for this current fiscal year is needed for the investigation to continue in August and September, Bitely said.

In March, the Administrative Board voted 4-0 in favor of letting Schuette spend $1.25 million on a contract with attorney Todd Flodd’s Royal Oak law firm. Flood is leading Schuette’s investigation of the Flint water crisis.

Schuette had the authority to spend up to $249,000 on the investigation without the board’s approval.

In January, after Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint, Schuette assembled Flood, former Detroit FBI chief Andy Arena and roughly two dozen attorneys and investigators outside of the attorney general’s office to investigate all aspects of Flint’s disastrous use of Flint River water.

To date, Schuette has filed criminal charges against two Department of Environmental Quality employees, and a city of Flint water treatment plant worker.

Last week, Schuette sued two engineering firms hired by Flint to put its water plant into operation treating river water and later fix problems that arose after citizens complained about the foul smell and orange color of their drinking water. Those companies are fighting back, contending their advice was ignored by Flint and DEQ officials.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood