Former Michigan health chief asks court to end Flint water saga

DETROIT – Lawyers for Michigan’s former health director are urging an appeals court to quickly halt an effort to revive criminal charges related to the 2014-15 Flint water crisis.

Nick Lyon’s defense team entered the plea this week in response to a promise by prosecutors to try to salvage charges that were invalidated by the Michigan Supreme Court. This is the latest volley in the legal saga.

The attorney general’s office lost a unanimous Supreme Court decision in June, and a Genesee County judge subsequently dismissed charges against Lyon and six other people. But prosecutors refuse to give up.

They argue the charges, an unusual tool in state court, can be immediately turned into traditional criminal charges, a losing argument so far. They said they would appeal Judge Elizabeth Kelly’s Oct. 4 ruling.

“The Michigan Supreme Court has already, both explicitly and implicitly, decided the issue in the order that the prosecution now appeals. The indictment is void and should be dismissed,” Lyon’s attorneys, Chip Chamberlain and Britt Cobb, told the appeals court.

“There are no charges left to arrest,” they wrote.

State-appointed managers switched Flint’s water source to the Flint River in 2014, but the water was not treated to reduce its disastrous impact on old pipes. As a result, lead contaminated the system for 18 months.

Lyon had no role in the water switch. But the river water has been blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which is typically caused by bacteria spread through cooling systems.

Lyon and former medical chief executive Eden Wells have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in nine deaths. They were accused of failing to warn the Flint area about the outbreak in time.

Former Governor Rick Snyder was charged with two felonies for his handling of the water crisis. Citing the summer Superior Court decision, he is seeking to have his indictment dismissed, a request pending with another judge in Genesee County.

An effort to hold people criminally responsible for Flint’s water mess took years and produced little. Seven people pleaded no contest to felonies that were eventually scrubbed from their records.

If the appeals court wants additional argument in Lyon’s case, he hopes it will act soon.

“Director Lyon is in his seventh year of dealing with these sensational and highly publicized allegations that have now been dismissed — twice now,” his attorneys wrote. “For him, justice was the opposite of swift.”

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