Finley: End the prosecution of Flint defendants
The best way to resolve the issue of who pays for the ongoing defense of the Snyder administration officials charged with criminal offenses related to the Flint water crisis is to end the prosecution.
The cost to the state of pursue the cases against 11 public servants has already hit the outrageous amount of $30.6 million. And the prosecution is not nearly done.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer raised questions about whether the state would continue paying for the defense of the officials, who are charged with crimes stemming from their public duties. She says there are spending demands that have higher priority. That's surely true.
But to not continue paying to defend those charged would be fair warning to anyone considering a state position — and those already in them — that they're on their own should they get caught up in a political witch hunt.
And for most of the defendants, that's what this was from the beginning. Former Attorney General Bill Schuette pursued the prosecution of bureaucrats in hopes of distancing himself from fellow Republican Gov. Rick Snyder as he mounted his own gubernatorial bid.
Snyder, rightly, allotted money from the state budget to pay for the defense of those facing criminal and legal charges.
Of the 11, six have already agreed to plea deals. Two more have been bound over for trial. And preliminary exams continue for the other three.
The highest profile officials, former Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells, have so far required $1.87 million and $723,200 respectively for their defense.
Whitmer is right — the state has better uses for that money.
But if she pulls it, most of the defendants would have little choice but to enter plea deals to avoid the devastating cost of defending themselves. That would be justice denied.
This prosecution criminalized public service. Certainly, people made mistakes. And some were woefully deficient in the performance of their jobs.
But that doesn't mean the public or the people of Flint would be well-served by sending them to prison.
The governor should instruct Attorney General Dana Nessel to end the prosecution, or at the very least, to negotiate plea deals that would allow the defendants to get on with their lives and the state to save money.
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