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Federal judge says she will decide on requests by former Gov. Rick Snyder and others not to testify at Flint water civil trial

Former Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI)
Governor Snyder's office
State of Michigan

Lawyers for former Governor Rick Snyder and four others made their case to a judge Tuesday for them not to testify at a civil trial related to the Flint water crisis.

In the civil case, four children exposed to Flint’s lead tainted drinking water are suing two engineering firms — Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam — that consulted on Flint’s water system.

Snyder, former emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, former aide to Snyder Rich Baird and Flint city employee Howard Croft answered questions in legal depositions in the civil case two years ago. But that was before they were criminally charged in connection with the Flint water crisis.

Snyder and Croft were charged with misdemeanor counts. Earley, Ambrose and Baird are facing felony charges.

Their attorneys want Snyder and the others to not be forced to testify before the civil jury. Otherwise they may invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

But lawyers for the two engineering firms being sued want Snyder and others to testify before the jury.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy reminded the attorneys, Snyder and the others, did have a “plausible fear of prosecution” at the time of the deposition and could have invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege at that time.

During an exchange with Baird’s attorney, Levy commented on the legal position the five potential witnesses/criminal defendants are in, “Jiminy Cricket, I wouldn’t want to be in (Baird’s) shoes.”

After listening to more than two hours of arguments, Levy said she’ll take the issue under advisement. The judge suggested a possible solution, under which the jury could watch portions of the videotaped depositions of Snyder and the others. After that, the five could be brought in to testify only on questions the judge would allow.

The civil case is the first related to the Flint water crisis that has been brought to trial. It’s referred to as a "bellwether" case, because it may demonstrate how other pending cases may proceed.

It’s unrelated to the $626 million settlement of other Flint water crisis damage claims against the State of Michigan, City of Flint, McLaren Flint Hospital and Rowe Professional Services.

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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