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Federal judge trims attorneys' fees request in Flint water settlement

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A federal judge has trimmed a request for attorneys’ fees tied to the $626 million Flint water settlement. But not by much.

Attorneys had requested more than $200 million. The request drew criticism from some Flint residents and others who considered it excessive.

In the order issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy reduced the fee request for the lead attorneys and other lawyers who’ve spent years represented tens of thousands of plaintiffs. Levy also approved another $46 million in other expenses and fees.

In her order, Judge Judith Levy wrote:

“The Court must balance society’s strong interest in paying lawyers for their work and encouraging counsel to accept similar engagements in the future with the important interest in maximizing the Claimants’ Monetary Awards.”

Michael Pitt is the co-lead counsel in the Flint water lawsuit. He estimates Levy’s order will mean attorneys will receive around $190 million.

Bob Dorigo Jones with the group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. He says the residents of Flint have been “victimized again” by Judge Levy’s order.

“It’s a massive amount that, bottom line, hurts the people of Flint and takes money away from them that they deserve,” said Jones, “It should be closer to half of what they got.”

But attorney Michael Pitt defends the attorneys’ fees decision. He says a “village of attorneys” spent years and thousands of hours building and pursuing this settlement.

“This is not excessive when you take into account the amount of work that was required,” said Pitt.

The state of Michigan is contributing $600 million to the Flint water settlement. The rest of the money is coming from the city of Flint, McLaren Flint Hospitaly, and Rowe Professional Services.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement after the judge’s ruling saying the order brings the plaintiffs a “step closer” to receiving compensation.

“I continue to encourage registrants to review the latest information to best understand how to file their claim” said Nessel.

More than 50,000 people have signed on as plaintiffs in the case, potentially eligible for a share of the settlement. They have until May 12 to submit their paperwork with the claims administrator.

Nearly 80% of the settlement is earmarked for plaintiffs who were children during the Flint water crisis. Young children are most at-risk of long-term health problems related to exposure to high levels of lead.

The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city’s drinking water source was switched to save money. The city was taken off Detroit’s water system and began getting its tap water from the Flint River. But the river water was not properly treated with anti-corrosives. The improperly treated water damaged pipes, releasing lead and other contaminants into the city’s drinking water.

The water source was switched back to the Detroit system in October, 2015. But that was after testing showed elevated blood lead levels in Flint children.

This settlement does not end all Flint water crisis related litigation.

Individuals who are not part of this settlement may pursue their own lawsuits against the state of Michigan, city of Flint and the businesses taking part in the settlement.

There are also lawsuit proceeding against two private contractors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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