LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday that a law firm hired to help the governor cooperate with criminal probes stemming from Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis will focus primarily on searching and processing emails and state documents sought by investigators.
An “engagement letter” from Warner, Norcross & Judd of Grand Rapids to Snyder says it will provide “legal advice and representation” related to investigations undertaken by the U.S. Justice Department, state attorney general and Genesee County. But Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said the firm, which will be paid up to $800,000, will mainly work on searching for, processing and producing “large quantities” of emails and documents.
“They are highly skilled at doing that. They have the ability and resources,” Adler said.
Another contract, worth up to $400,000, is with Detroit-based Barris, Scott, Denn & Drinker, so three attorneys can serve as special assistant attorneys general - providing representation and advice to Snyder in civil lawsuits and federal, state and local civil probes. Attorney General Bill Schuette has retained a special counsel to investigate the disaster but also is defending Snyder and the state in civil cases.
Schuette’s office is “investigating on one hand and defending on the other,” Adler said. “This is a way for them to have the help they need for us to process information and give them information.”
The Detroit Free Press first reported on the details of the contracts on Thursday, two days after Snyder’s office said it needed up to $1.2 million, which would be paid with public money.
The State Administrative Board, which must approve contracts above $250,000, next week will consider Schuette’s request for $1.5 million for his investigation, which would also be covered with taxpayer dollars. Snyder can approve contracts under state law and does not need the board’s approval for his $1.2 million in spending but decided to still notify the board, Adler said.
Snyder has apologized for regulatory failures while the city was under state emergency financial management, which led to a decision to not add anti-corrosion chemicals when Flint’s water source was switched from a Detroit-area system to the Flint River in 2014. Lead from old pipes leached into homes and businesses, leading to a public health emergency in the fall. There also were earlier E. coli detections, resident complaints about color and odor, and high levels of a disinfectant byproduct. A General Motors plant had stopped using the water just six months after the switch because it was rusting engine parts, and experts suspect a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 2014 and 2015 was tied to the water.
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