State Officials Lose Official Representation in Flint Water Lawsuit

Attorney General gets court permission to not represent seven DEQ officials

Attorney General Bill Schuette wants to withdraw as legal counsel for seven former or current Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials concerning legal matters surrounding the Flint water crisis.

Schuette, on Thursday, filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to withdraw as legal representative of the officials, including former MDEQ Director Dan Wyant.

The motion would separate the legal representation of Gov. Rick Snyder and the MDEQ (as a government agency) from that of individuals who have been named in a lawsuit filed concerning the crisis.

Wyant resigned on Dec. 29. Six other department officials were named in Schuette’s motion to withdraw: Liane Shekter Smith, Adam Rosenthal, Stephen Busch, Patrick Cook, Michael Prysby, and Bradley Wurfel.

U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara granted the attorney general’s motion to withdraw as counsel for the officials. But he will not be allowed to represent the governor and the department until officials in the department have signed conflict-of-interest waivers, essentially agreeing to the new arrangement.

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The crisis in Flint arose following the city’s switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as its drinking water source. Water tainted with health threatening levels of lead resulted from the changeover. Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease might also eventually be linked to the switch. Those involved could face criminal charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter if their handling of the city’s water switch-over and its aftermath are found to have been grossly negligent.

Laura Biehl, Snyder’s deputy press secretary, said the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

Schuette’s office did not respond to a phone call offering the opportunity to comment.

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