FLINT, MI — Two of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet members won’t get the judge they requested to hear their criminal cases related to the Flint water crisis.
Chief Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Duncan Beagle ruled Thursday, March 25, that the cases of Nick Lyon, former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and former Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells will continue to he heard by Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth A. Kelly.
“The court finds that Michigan Court Rules do not mandate reassignment and further that reassignment is not warranted under the facts of this case,” Beagle’s decision says. “In summary, the court finds that promoting the interests of judicial economy are within the discretion of the chief judge, that the attorney general had no knowledge of how these cases would be assigned, and that the charges against Lyon and Wells arose out of the same occurrence as the other defendants …”
Earlier this month, Lyon and Wells asked Beagle to reassign their cases to Circuit Court Judge Joseph J. Farah, whom both Lyon and Wells appeared before previously when their original water crisis cases were bound over for trial in 2018.
Both the Lyon and Wells cases, along with six others, were later dismissed by the Michigan Department of Attorney General in 2019 following the election of Dana Nessel, but both were charged again in January after the investigation restarted under the leadership of Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Lyon, 52, faces nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, each count punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a count of willful neglect of duty. Wells, 58, is charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and or a $7,500 fine, as well as two counts of misconduct in office and one count of willful neglect of duty.
The charges are directly related to Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in Flint while the city used the Flint River as its water source.
Officials at MDHHS were aware of the outbreaks in the Flint area during the water crisis as well as suspicions they were related to river water but never warned the public until January 2016, the same month the water crisis was recognized as a federal public health emergency.
DHHS officials have said previously that exposure to McLaren-Flint hospital — not Flint water — is the only explanation for the surge in cases.
In their motion for reassignment, Wells and Lyon contended that Farah became “deeply knowledgeable about the underlying facts and novel legal theories involved” in the original cases against them and that Flint water prosecutors “selected the arraignment dates — and thus the judge — by directing counsel to surrender clients on a specific date without any accommodation whatsoever.”
Hammoud accused Lyon and Wells of “speaking from both sides of their mouth,” saying they charged prosecutors of an elaborate conspiracy theory to explain how their cases were assigned and requesting reassignment to Farah “precisely because they believe (he) is sympathetic to their legal arguments.”
Kelly was assigned to six felony water crisis cases, including the cases of Lyon and Wells, because of an order of judicial assignment signed by Beagle on Jan. 14. The order states that because Kelly was the criminal duty judge for the week that the Flint water arraignments took place she was assigned all of the cases.
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