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'Document dump' by Flint water prosecutors leads to contempt finding

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

Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for a financial penalty after state attorneys violated a court order by distributing protected documents in the Flint water prosecution.

A judge last Friday found Attorney General Dana Nessel's agency in civil contempt.

The department “simply did a large ‘document dump’" without any meaningful review of the records, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Tucker said.

What does a bankruptcy court have to do with efforts to pursue criminal charges in Flint's lead-contaminated water?

Armed with a search warrant in 2019, prosecutors in the attorney general’s office obtained documents from computer servers controlled by other state attorneys who had represented former Gov. Rick Snyder in Flint water matters.

The search apparently swept up sensitive records from the Detroit bankruptcy, in which the Snyder administration played a key role, as well as attorney-client communications of other state officials.

The records, in electronic form, were then given to people charged with crimes in the Flint water scandal in 2021. Prosecutors claimed they had an obligation to share them with defense lawyers.

The attorney general's office argued that prosecutors were unaware of orders protecting the bankruptcy documents.

Nonetheless, the “entire department at all times was bound to comply," the judge said.

Tucker said the state must pay Snyder's legal fees for raising the issue. An email seeking comment was sent to the attorney general's office Tuesday.

Snyder was among nine people charged with crimes in the Flint water scandal. But the cases appear dead after the Michigan Supreme Court said a one-judge grand jury cannot be used to file charges.

Flint, while under the control of Snyder-appointed managers, used the Flint River for drinking water in 2014-15 without properly treating it to reduce corrosion. Lead leached from old pipes and contaminated the system.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.