Snyder, Schuette attorneys meet about Flint documents

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The legal teams for Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette met Thursday amid escalating tensions over a Flint water crisis investigation and documents Schuette has claimed are being withheld by the governor’s private attorneys.

“It was a cordial meeting, and I’m hopeful that it will be a positive outcome,” Schuette said in a Thursday interview with The Detroit News editorial board and reporters.

The attorney general confirmed this week his Flint investigative team is having trouble securing some documents it requested and said private attorneys hired by the governor “were not providing sufficient information.”

Schuette declined to elaborate Thursday but said he was optimistic after the meeting that involved his Flint team, Snyder’s private attorneys and other lawyers from the attorney general’s office that represent state government agencies.

The Snyder administration has turned over hundreds of thousands of pages to Flint investigators and disputed characterizations it is not cooperating with the probe.

Since the private tensions went public this week, the governor’s and attorney general’s offices put out a joint statement Thursday afternoon describing an “amicable meeting” and a “frank, positive and productive discussion” about the requested documents.

“Moving forward, the attorneys will make their best efforts to work through any document production issues,” the statement said.

In addition to assistant attorneys general who work for the executive branch, Snyder has hired private attorneys from the Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker PLLC law firm in Detroit and Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP in Grand Rapids to help with Flint-related matters.

Schuette has created a “firewall” in his office separating his investigative team, led by Royal Oak attorney Todd Flood, from staff attorneys who represent the governor’s office and other state departments.

“Frankly, the firewall has worked,” Schuette said Thursday. “Nobody peeks over the wall.”

He declined to say whether his investigators had interviewed any members of Snyder’s inner circle, indicating that did not want to divulge strategy.

“We are promptly methodical,” he said. “We are going through the best way to find the truth. We’re aggressive.”

Flint residents continue to rely on filtered or bottled water due to lead contamination of the city’s drinking water supply. State regulators failed to require corrosion control additives when the city used Flint River water between April 2014 and October 2015, causing aging pipes to leach lead into the water.

Schuette’s office has so far filed criminal charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees, and a Flint utilities official has also agreed to a plea deal.

Last week, the attorney general’s office filed a civil lawsuit against Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam and Veolia, two water engineering firms that did work for Flint.

Schuette said he hopes to win the suits or use any settlement money to compensate taxpayers for related expenses and create a trust fund to benefit Flint residents exposed to lead. He estimated the state could win or negotiate “hundreds of millions” of dollars from the companies.

Special Assistant Attorney General Noah Hall said potential damages are difficult to estimate because of the unprecedented nature of the Flint crisis.

“We’ve never seen lead exposure in this focused of a way at a community of this scale,” Hall said.