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Federal court rules Snyder can invoke his Fifth Amendment right in Flint water crisis civil trial

Former Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) (file photo)
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Former Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) (file photo)

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday former Governor Rick Snyder and several other former government officials cannot be compelled to testify in a Flint water crisis civil trial.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling concerns Snyder, former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, former Snyder aide Rich Baird and former Flint Public Works director Howard Croft.

The ruling came in a case where four children were suing two engineering firms for their role in Flint’s water system. It was labeled as a “bellwether” trial, since it served as the first of its kind civil lawsuit in the Flint water crisis.

Lawyers for the engineering firms (Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam) wanted to ask Snyder and others questions about their handling of the Flint water crisis beyond what they said during pre-trial depositions.

But the former governor and the others “took the Fifth” in order to avoid potentially incriminating themselves.

They were among nine people indicted in 2021 as part of a state investigation into the Flint water crisis. Earlier this year, the Michigan Supreme Court found problems with the one-person grand jury. After that, a circuit court judge dismissed felony charges against seven of the defendants. Snyder and Croft continue to wait to see what will happen with their misdemeanor charges. Meanwhile, the state criminal probe into the water crisis continues.

U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy ruled Snyder and the others had to testify, since they had already testified under oath during pre-trial depositions.

Snyder and others appealed the judge’s decision that they must testify, despite the state criminal investigation.

But the federal appeals court disagreed.

The court ruling Tuesday found the former governor and the others “deposition waivers did not waive the privilege at trial because the waiver extended only through the end of cross-examination at their depositions.”

Despite not being able to question Snyder and others on the witness stand, attorneys in the civil trial were able to play video of their pre-trial depositions for the jury.

The civil trial ended in a mistrial earlier this year. A re-trial is scheduled for next year.

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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