LANSING - Attorney General Bill Schuette wants to award another $2.6 million to the law firm handling the criminal investigation and prosecution arising from the Flint drinking water crisis, which would push total outside legal costs for the public health catastrophe above $25 million.
A committee of the State Administrative Board approved the new contract in a 2-0 vote Tuesday, with Gov. Rick Snyder's representative abstaining and representatives of Schuette and Treasurer Nick Khouri voting yes. The full board, which usually acts as a rubber stamp, is to consider the contract next week.
Schuette has brought criminal charges against 15 current or former state and City of Flint employees in connection with the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water and at least a dozen deaths from Legionnaires' disease that Schuette alleges resulted from the water contamination.
The money for the new Flood contract is already appropriated by the Legislature, said Schuette spokeswoman Andra Bitely. The initial 2018 budget included $2 million for Schuette's Flint investigation and a supplemental budget approved last week added $600,000 more, she said.
Though he hasn't ruled out further charges, it's expected Schuette wants most of the new one-year contract to pay for prosecution of the criminal charges already filed.
If approved, the new contract for Flood Law PLLC would push total outside state civil and criminal legal contracts arising from the water contamination above $25 million, with Schuette's contracts accounting for about $7.8 million of that total.
Snyder has spent nearly all of a $3.5-million outside contract approved for his criminal defense fees and a $1.4 million contract approved for his civil defense, his office said last week. In addition, Snyder's office has spent just over $87,000 on attorneys for former Snyder chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, about $75,000 for top Snyder aide Rich Baird, and about $25,000 for former Snyder press secretary Sara Wurfel, Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.
Approved contracts for the Department of Environmental Quality total at least $8.5 million and contracts for the Department of Health and Human Services at least $3.3 million. At least $75,000 is approved for the Treasury Department.
The state has also pledged to pay at least $300,000 to help pay for criminal defense fees for two former state-appointed emergency managers and could face additional legal costs related to current or former Flint employees.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after emergency managers approved the switch from Lake Huron drinking water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the city drinking water plant. State DEQ officials have acknowledged a mistake in not requiring the addition of corrosion control chemicals as part of the treatment process.
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