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Decision on whether former state health director will stand trial not expected until May

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

We’ll have to wait until at least May before we’ll know whether or not Michigan’s former state health department director will stand trial in connection to the Flint water crisis.

Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah says it will take time to research and write his decision on a defense motion to quasha lower court ruling binding former director Nick Lyon over for trial.

Lyon is facing involuntary manslaughter and other charges in connection with a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County. At least 12 people died and dozens more were sickened by the pneumonia-like illness that coincided with the switch in Flint drinking water source. Lyon is charged with involuntary manslaughter in two of the deaths in 2015.

Lyon and other top state health department officials discussed the outbreak in January of 2015.  But it wasn’t until January of 2016 that the general public was warned about the Legionnaires' disease outbreak. 

In court Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney General Paul Stablein told the judge Lyon shouldn’t have waited a year before issuing a public warning.

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
"Why should we assume that Director Lyon should have done that…when no one else figures it out,” Defense Attorney John Bursch argues on the prosecution contention Lyon should have issued a public warning about Legionnaires Disease.

“The information about the outbreak was kept from the public…keeping it from the public is the neglect of his duty,” argued Stablein.

But Defense Attorney John Bursch says Lyon should not be tried for not issuing a public health warning before 2016.

“If all those health officials, all the scientists, all the doctors, all the experts didn’t conclude that public notice should be given, then why should we assume that Director Lyon should have done that, when no one else figures it out,” Bursch told the judge.

The defense attorney's main argument for tossing the district court judge’s decision to bind over Nick Lyon for trial is that they contend state statutes cited in the lower court’s order don’t support the charges against Lyon.

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
“This decision will be about the law and the facts, and nothing more and nothing less," says Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah.

It’s those questions of law that appear to be high in the mind of Judge Farah.  

In the courtroom, more than a dozen prominent Flint water activists listened to Wednesday’s arguments.

At one point, Farah looked around the courtroom and explained that the law will guide his decision.

“If you’re looking for all wrongs to be righted, you’ve come to the wrong place,” Farah said from the bench, “This decision will be about the law and the facts, and nothing more and nothing less.”

Nick Lyon is the highest ranking state official charged in connection with the Flint water crisis. Half of those charged have cut plea deals with prosecutors. The rest remain in the legal process.  

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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