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Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to plead the Fifth in Flint lawsuit

(DETROIT) — A federal judge in Michigan’s Eastern District Court says she will wait to decide whether former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and four others will have to appear before a jury to testify in a civil lawsuit connected to the Flint water crisis.

U.S District Court Judge Judith Levy heard arguments from attorneys representing Snyder, his former aide Rich Baird, Howard Croft, the former director for Flint’s Department of Public Works, and former emergency managers, Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Early, who made their cases in a motion hearing Tuesday to halt subpoenas issued to their clients.

Nine former state officials were indicted on Jan. 14, 2021, for a total of 42 counts of charges related to the Flint water crisis, including Snyder who is facing two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty, which he has denied. Croft was charged with willful neglect of duty. Baird received felony charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, official misconduct and extortion. Earley and Ambrose were charged with several counts of misconduct in office.

The former state officials have pleaded not guilty to their respective charges and are potential witnesses in a civil trial against two engineering companies.

The five defendants answered questions in videotaped depositions made in 2020 before they were charged. While those taped depositions could be played before a jury in the civil trial against Lockwood, Andrews & Newman (LAN) and Veolia North America (VAN), their attorneys argued they should not be forced to testify beyond that to prevent potential incrimination.

Lockwood, Andrews & Newman and Veolia North America, two contracted engineering firms that reviewed Flint’s water system, are being sued by four children who were exposed to lead contamination due to the Michigan city’s tainted drinking water. The lawsuit claims the engineering firms committed professional negligence for adequately advising city officials and not ensure the water being pulled from the Flint River was properly treated. Both LAN and VNA deny any wrongdoing, citing the city’s and state’s efforts to cut costs as the culprit behind the lead contamination.

The engineering firms were not a part of last year’s $626 million settlement litigation involving damage claims against the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, Rowe Professional services and McLaren Flint Hospital.

This latest trial will test the firms’ potential liability and could influence other pending litigations. The civil trial started on Feb. 28 and is expected to continue for several more weeks.

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