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Ex-Gov. Snyder, chief of staff ask courts to dismiss charges

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lawyers for two of the biggest names charged in the Flint water crisis investigation, former Gov. Rick Snyder and former Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen, have asked judges this week to dismiss the cases against their clients.

In court filings, attorneys for Snyder and Agen contended that prosecutors brought the criminal cases in the incorrect county. The alleged wrongdoing took place in Ingham County, but the charges were brought in Genesee County, where Flint is located, they said.

"The remedy for an indictment charging offenses outside the grand jury’s jurisdiction is axiomatic: A  trial court must quash an indictment returned by a grand jury that lacked jurisdiction," Snyder's attorneys, Brian Lennon, Charles Ash Jr. and Judith Gracey, wrote in a Monday motion in 67th District Court.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder walks past the media after his video arraignment on charges related to the Flint water crisis on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 outside the Genesee County Jail in downtown Flint.  Snyder pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint.

A one-judge grand jury, Genesee County Judge David Newblatt, authorized a combined 41 charges against nine individuals as part of an investigation by Attorney General Dana Nessel's office. The charges were announced on Jan. 14.

The highest-ranking official among them, Snyder, is facing two counts of willful neglect of duty. The misdemeanor counts carry a penalty of one year behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000.

His former chief of staff, Agen, is facing a single felony charge of perjury, which carries a possible 15-year sentence. On Friday, Agen's attorneys filed their motion for dismissal in Genesee County circuit court.

Prosecutors have alleged that Agen, 43, who also worked as Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director, made a false statement or statements under oath during an interview on Feb. 11, 2017. Agen pleaded not guilty.

His attorneys, J. Benjamin Dolan, Seth Waxman and Scott MacGriff, said Agen made no false statements, and the interview in question took place in Ingham County, not Genesee County.

Jarrod Agen

"None of the acts Mr. Agen engaged in took place in Genesee County," Agen's attorneys wrote. "As a result, venue is not proper in Genesee County, and the indictment should be dismissed."

They contended the charge should have been brought in Ingham County. The prosecution "is entirely designed to wrongfully smear an upstanding member of the community and dedicated public servant," they added.

Agen's attorneys also argued Friday that that prosecutors had improperly failed to make him aware of the specific false statement he is alleged to have made.

His dismissal motion will be heard at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 8, according to a court document.

Nessel's office hasn't directly responded to the venue arguments being made by Snyder and Agen.

"Any responses to arguments made in court will occur in court," Courtney Covington Watkins, spokeswoman for the prosecution team, said earlier this month.

One of the counts against the former governor says he failed to declare a state of emergency or disaster, although he was notified of a threat of an emergency or disaster in Flint. Snyder did eventually declare a state of emergency in January 2016 — three months after he had Flint shift its water source back to Detroit's regional water system.

The other count says Snyder failed to inquire into "the performance, condition and administration" of officers whom he appointed and was required to supervise under the state Constitution. Legal experts say this likely refers to the emergency managers who were in place in Flint and working under Snyder. Two of them also face charges.

"As the evidence comes out, it will be plain for everybody to see why, in fact, charges were absolutely necessary in this case," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said during a press conference announcing the charges after being added in the prosecution team. "So it goes far beyond just failing to supervise or someone making a mistake on your staff. Far beyond."

cmauger@detroitnews.com