Ex-Michigan governor Rick Snyder wins appeal over Flint water testimony

FILE - Then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivers his State of the State address at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Jan. 23, 2018. Lawyers for former governor Snyder urged a judge Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, to dismiss misdemeanor charges related to the Flint water crisis, a week after another judge took that step with seven other former officials. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File) (Al Goldis, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DETROIT – Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder can invoke his right to remain silent at a civil trial related to lead contamination in Flint’s water in 2014-15, an appeals court said.

The court said Snyder's willingness to answer questions during a 2020 formal interview with lawyers doesn't mean he waived his Fifth Amendment right at a subsequent trial.

The decision, released Tuesday, also applies to a key Snyder aide, Rich Baird, and three former Flint officials. A judge had said they couldn’t avoid questions at trial, but she also agreed to send the dispute to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Flint managers appointed by Snyder switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 without properly treating it. Lead leached from old pipes for more than a year, a disastrous result.

Some Flint families are suing Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, known as LAN, claiming the engineering firms bear some responsibility because they performed work at the city’s water plant. They deny liability and blame public officials for the lead crisis.

A trial in federal court ended in August without a unanimous verdict. Another trial is planned.

Snyder and others cited a right to remain silent when criminal charges were pending against them in Flint.

A June decision by the Michigan Supreme Court subsequently led to the dismissal of most charges, though misdemeanors against Snyder are pending. State prosecutors insist they're not giving up, which means the Fifth Amendment issue could arise again in the civil case.

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