‘Kick in the teeth’: Michigan taxpayers might pay $2.7mn in Flint legal fees

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. © Joshua Lott / Getty Images
Michigan taxpayers may pay up to $2.7 million in outside legal fees associated with the Flint water crisis if Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette receive all the money they’re seeking from state lawmakers.

Snyder’s office requested $1.2 million for legal fees, according to an agenda summary submitted to the State Administrative Board’s Finance and Claims Committee. That’s up significantly from the roughly $500,000 that was previously estimated, and the money would go to two separate legal firms assisting the government with the situation in Flint.

Schuette is seeking another $1.5 million for work done by Flood Law LLC “for a one-year, six-month Flint Water Investigation conflict.” This is a dramatic increase from the $249,000 previously allocated. The decision to employ Flood Law was also controversial because attorney Todd Flood had donated money to political parties in the past, including some $3,000 to Snyder’s last two campaigns.

The contracts will be fully considered by lawmakers on March 15.

Shortly after the financial requests were revealed, Democrats in the state blasted the Republican administration.

"It's beyond outrageous that Snyder wants to take $1.2 million from Michigan taxpayers to pay for defense attorneys over his involvement in the poisoning of Flint's water," said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon in a statement. "That money should go toward replacing lead pipes and getting safe drinking water to Flint families, not for Snyder's defense attorneys."

Dillon also questioned the independence of Schuette’s investigation based on the donation history of Flood, saying the attorney was “funneling” money to the firm.

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) added that “paying more for high-priced lawyers than we are for school nurses or fully refunding victims is another kick in the teeth to taxpayers and my community.”

However, the Snyder administration said the money is needed to help process “an enormous amount of data” related to the Flint crisis that needs to be released to the public under numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, plus costs associated with court cases.

"The Governor’s Office and the state departments are processing this data as part of numerous requests but are unable to complete the work needed in a timely manner without outside assistance,” Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said to the Detroit Free Press. "This work is being done to ensure that state government is being transparent, so the use of state dollars is appropriate."

Meanwhile, Schuette spokesperson Andrea Bitely said the attorney general needs more money for an “independent, broad-based investigation team that will leave no stone unturned.”

“We will not do a half-baked investigation on the cheap. We will get answers.”

The situation in Flint first started making national headlines last year, when state officials acknowledged that the city had been delivering lead-contaminated water to homes and buildings for about a year and a half. Though residents complained immediately after their drinking source had been switched to the Flint River from the Detroit water system, which pumps water from Lake Huron, officials insisted that the water was safe for consumption.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the situation, including one this week that is seeking class-action status. The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial and compensation for any family that was affected by lead poisoning, which it says caused problems such as physical and psychological injuries, learning and other permanent disabilities, and more.

“The tragedy is still unfolding,” said Hunter Shkolnik, one of the attorneys behind the lawsuit. “We don’t know how many children and families are involved.”