Michigan’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling Tuesday against three former state officials over their involvement in the Flint drinking water crisis, court filings show.
The Michigan Supreme Court voted unanimously with one abstention to return the cases against former state officials Nick Lyon, Nancy Peeler and Richard Baird to return to the Genesee Circuit Court, citing improper use of a one-person grand jury.
The trio is part of a larger group of six people charged in 2021 in relation to the city’s drinking water crisis. Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was among the six and pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty.
“Judge David Newblatt served as the one-man grand jury, considered the evidence behind closed doors, and then issued indictments against defendants,” reads Tuesday’s ruling.
The three appealed the decision, appeals that were rejected until they reached the state’s Supreme Court.
Michigan law authorizes “a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and issue arrest warrants. But they do not authorize the judge to issue indictments. And if a criminal process begins with a one-man grand jury, the accused is entitled to a preliminary examination before being brought to trial,” reads the court’s decision, authored by Chief Justice Bridget McCormack.
Snyder’s lawyers said Tuesday, they would use the ruling to get the two misdemeanor charges against the two-term Republican governor thrown out.
The charges against Snyder could each result in a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud responded Tuesday, saying the cases against the former government officials are not dead.
“The Citizens of Flint should know that these cases are not over,” Hammoud said in a statement.
“Public commentary to the contrary is presumptive and rash. Our reading is that the Court’s opinion interprets the one-man grand jury process to require charges to be filed at the district court and include a preliminary examination. Our team is prepared to move forward through that process.”
“We relied upon settled law and the well-established prosecutorial tool of the one-man grand jury, used for decades, to bring forward charges against the nine defendants in the Flint water crisis. We still believe these charges can and will be proven in court,” Hammoud said.
Snyder, 62, was governor of Michigan in 2014 when the city of Flint switched sources from Detroit’s supply of treated Lake Huron water to water from the Flint River treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors in the process leading to aging pipes leaching lead into the water supply, exposing residents to toxic contamination, scientific studies showed.