Lawyers: Dispute over Van Gogh art in Detroit is settled

Snyder's legal team wants AG's office sanctioned over bankruptcy records

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants a federal bankruptcy court to hold Attorney General Dana Nessel's office in contempt, arguing confidential documents had been released as part of the Flint water proceedings.

Snyder's attorneys filed a motion Wednesday in Michigan's Eastern District, asking a judge to impose sanctions "appropriate to coerce" the office's compliance with 2013 court orders that required secrecy about the Detroit bankruptcy mediation. The filing points to concerns that privileged documents related to the bankruptcy have been shared with other defendants and legal teams involved in the Flint prosecution cases.

The mediation occurred at a time when Flint officials were on course to end their service with the Detroit water system in 2014 over concerns that rates were too high. The Eastern District oversaw the mediation that led to the so-called "Grand Bargain" resolving the bankruptcy of Michigan's largest city while Snyder was governor.

"Despite our repeated warnings to the Attorney General’s office about the inappropriate release of protected information, they continued with reckless abandon and now appear to have violated not only the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work product doctrine and executive privilege, but also federal court confidentiality orders related to the Detroit bankruptcy," Snyder's attorney Brian Lennon said Wednesday.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty in Flint. Snyder's legal team is asking the Detroit bankruptcy court to suppress confidential documents the Attorney General's office has shared in the discovery process.

Courtney Covington Watkins, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office said the filing appeared "to be part of an ongoing strategy of distraction by the defense."

"We look forward to addressing these concerns in court so that we can move forward with the prosecution of those responsible for the Flint Water Crisis," she said.

In January, Nessel's office filed 41 charges against nine state and city officials, including Snyder, over allegations tied to the lead-contaminated water crisis that resulted after Flint switched its water source on April 25, 2014. A one-judge grand jury in Genesee County that operated in secret signed off on the Flint charges.

Snyder, who left office at the end of 2018 after two four-year terms, is facing two counts of willful neglect of duty in connection with the Flint crisis. The misdemeanor counts carry a penalty of one year behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000.

The state's prosecution team has begun producing about 21 million documents that were involved in its investigation, according to the Wednesday filing by Snyder's legal team. About 4 million documents have been provided so far, the filing says.

Snyder's lawyers contend that documents they have received include "communications among mediators and parties regarding the substantive issues being mediated" as part of the Detroit bankruptcy.

"On information and belief, the other state criminal defendants, including some parties who did not participate in any mediations related to this bankruptcy case, received the same set of documents," the filing says.

An Aug. 13, 2013, mediation order said proceedings, discussions and writings involved in the Detroit mediation "shall be privileged and confidential and shall not be disclosed, filed or placed in evidence.” Snyder's lawyers saidNessel's office had violated the orders, "flagrantly disregarding any privileges or confidentiality protections."

Nessel is a Democrat who took office at the beginning of 2019.

In April 2013, state, Flint and Detroit officials held an unsuccessful last-chance meeting to try to avert Flint's disconnection from Michigan's largest water system. Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department already had sent Flint a notice of termination indicating the flow of water would stop in one year after Flint officials agreed to join a new regional authority based in Genesee County.

Both cities were run by Snyder-appointed emergency managers.

Detroit water officials battled to keep Flint and Genesee County from breaking off, charging that the proposed regional body, the Karegnondi Water Authority, was flawed and too expensive. Flint area officials were convinced that Detroit's estimates about building a new pipeline to Lake Huron and operating the regional authority were inflated.

Nearly all the principal players in the fight over Flint's water future met at the state's Cadillac Place offices in the New Center neighborhood on April 19, 2013. Snyder was there to oversee the debate.

The meeting included DWSD Director Sue McCormick and Detroit water system Chairman Jim Fausone; state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant; and Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz and Mayor Dayne Walling, Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright. Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr participated by phone.

The meeting failed to resolve the situation. Mediation talks followed Detroit's filing for bankruptcy in July 2013.

The court filing by Snyder's lawyers said Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud did not respond when they asked whether she agreed with their interpretation of events.

Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym  Worthy are leading the state's Flint water investigation.