Michigan governor hires lawyers for Flint water issues

Waldorf & Sons Excavating crew foreman Brian Damon unhooks a lead service line - the first being removed in the city - after digging for hours on Thursday, March 3, 2016, Flint, Mich. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has hired two outside lawyers at state expense to assist with civil representation and to search and process emails and other records connected to Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis, his office said Thursday.

The two lawyers have each been awarded a contract worth $249,000 through Dec. 31, Snyder spokesman Ari Adler confirmed. That’s just below the $250,000 threshold that would require approval from a state board that meets in public, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Adler said the amount was intentional so Snyder could hire the attorneys quickly in early February. The contracts were first reported Wednesday by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Progress Michigan, a liberal organization critical of the Republican governor, said Snyder should pay for the lawyers himself. “It’s plain to see he’s more interested in protecting himself than the people of Flint,” said Lonnie Scott the group’s executive director.

Flint switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money. State officials, in what they concede was an error, didn’t order Flint officials to treat the water with anti-corrosive chemicals. That caused lead to leach from aging pipes into some homes. If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities. Tests have shown high lead levels in some Flint children.

Residents of Flint got some help Thursday from the federal government, as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Medicaid will be extended to people up to age 21 and to pregnant women who were exposed to lead. She said 15,000 people will qualify and 30,000 current Medicaid recipients will be eligible for more services. They’ll be eligible for lead monitoring of their blood and behavioral health services.

The department had announced Wednesday that $3.6 million in emergency funds will be used to expand Head Start and Early Head Start services for Flint children. Snyder also said he submitted an appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding that was denied under an original emergency request.

Flint has since moved back to the Detroit system; officials hope anti-corrosion chemicals will recoat the pipes so it is safe to drink without filters within months. Snyder, under fire for his administration’s role in the emergency, has accepted responsibility while also blaming local officials and federal environmental regulators.

Because the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is representing the governor and others in lawsuits filed over the water situation, he has appointed a special counsel to investigate if any charges are warranted.

The lawyers Snyder hired are Eugene Driker and Brian Lennon.

Driker, who has had a long career in law and public service, worked behind the scenes as a key mediator between Detroit and creditors during the city’s bankruptcy. He is assisting with civil representation. Lennon, a criminal defense attorney who is a former federal prosecutor, is serving as investigatory counsel — a job that includes dealing with the review of records, Adler said.

“We do not believe there will be a need for criminal defense, because the governor and his administration have not committed any crimes,” Adler said. But he said the firm Warner Norcross & Judd, where Lennon is a partner, “has the ability to assist with quickly reviewing a massive amount of documents.”

Adler said Snyder’s administration also plans to go before the state board next week to seek a larger contract for Lennon.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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