Appeals panel upholds dismissal of water crisis cases against former Flint officials

A three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel on Thursday upheld decisions to dismiss cases against two former officials initially charged for their roles in the Flint water crisis.

Cases against former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley and former Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells were dismissed in early October, along with charges against other former state officials. Wells was charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty by a public official; Earley was charged with a felony count of misconduct in office.

Dr. Eden Wells listens as Genesee District Judge William Crawford reads through a prepared statement during a hearing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, at Genesee District Court in downtown Flint, Mich.
Dr. Eden Wells listens as Genesee District Judge William Crawford reads through a prepared statement during a hearing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, at Genesee District Court in downtown Flint, Mich.

The charges were dismissed after the Michigan Supreme Court sided with defense lawyers and ruled the state's prosecution team erred in having a judge act as a "one-man grand jury" to indict the officials. Defense lawyers had argued that by using a one-man grand jury the officials were denied their right to a preliminary examination, the legal procedure in which a judge reviews whether there is enough evidence to send a case to a jury trial.

After the Supreme Court ruling last June, the cases were remanded back to the Genesee County Circuit Court where they were eventually dismissed, prompting state appeals.

The appeals court panel, consisting of Presiding Judge Colleen O'Brien, Judge Mark Cavanagh and Judge Kathleen Jansen, wrote in its sentence-long opinion that the previous court rulings to dismiss the cases were clear enough to not merit any appeal arguments from the state.

O'Brien is a 2015 appointee of former Gov. Rick Snyder, who was also charged in the water crisis but saw his case dismissed; Cavanagh was elected to the court in 1988; and Jansen was appointed by former Gov. Jim Blanchard in 1989, per the court's website.

More:Flint water crisis prosecutors plan to appeal case for ex-health director to Supreme Court

More:Judge dismisses Flint water crisis cases against ex-officials after Supreme Court ruling

In a statement provided to Free Press, the Flint water crisis prosecution team said it will appeal the decision back up to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“We are not discouraged by the Court of Appeals’ recent order regarding the Wells and Earley cases. It has always been our understanding that this matter will be resolved by the Michigan Supreme Court. With that in mind, we will be appealing this decision," a statement attributed to prosecutors said.

"We are, however, disappointed that we were not given the opportunity to fully argue these issues to the Court. The issues present here are the same issues in all the Flint Water cases, which are about procedure, not about the facts of evidence, nor the merits of the charges in these cases."

State prosecutors had appealed the dismissal of all the cases related to the Flint water crisis, and so far have had mixed results — the Court of Appeals also dismissed charges against former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon in December. The Flint prosecution team said it would appeal Lyon's case up to the Supreme Court.

The court did, however, grant state prosecutors the opportunity to continue arguing an appeal against former MDHHS employee Nancy Peeler, who was charged with two felony counts of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty. Peeler's attorney has asked the court to reconsider its decision, according to court filings.

State appeals of dismissals against others initially charged for their roles in the water crisis, including former Snyder chief of staff Jarrod Agen, former Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose and former top Snyder aide Richard Baird, remain under consideration, according to Court of Appeals dockets.

The Flint water crisis started in 2014 when the city switched water sources and lead, a neurotoxin particularly dangerous to children, leached into the city's water supply. As the city struggled with water quality, it also saw an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease and deaths.

Contact Arpan Lobo: Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Panel upholds dismissal of Flint water crisis cases for two officials