- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats are putting more pressure on Gov. Rick Snyder to use his own money to pay for a projected $1.2 million in legal fees related to Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis after an engagement letter for the expensive legal fees emerged last week.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel threatened on Monday to try to strip at least $800,000 - the cost of hiring the Grand Rapids-based firm Warner Norcross & Judd - from the executive office budget if Snyder doesn’t voluntarily foot the bill. The engagement letter with the firm says it could provide legal advice and representation for “any criminal investigations and prosecutions and related claims” related to the Flint water crisis.

Greimel said he’s still considering whether to support scraping $400,000 more from the executive office budget, the same amount as Snyder’s contract with Detroit-based firm Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, which could provide representation in civil cases.

But removing $800,000 to $1.2 million from the executive office budget is unlikely to happen in a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Attorney General Bill Schuette is leading a team in a criminal probe involving the chain of decisions that led to Flint’s public health crisis. The city was being run by a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched water sources in 2014 to the Flint River. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from aging pipes into some homes. No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the crisis, though numerous civil suits have been.

Snyder spokesman Ari Adler says a private legal defense fund isn’t required, and that using public money is “appropriate.”

Lawsuits involving the state, regardless of department, are paid for through a state litigation fund provided for in the budget. The budget for the current fiscal year already includes the money mentioned in Snyder’s contracts, according to Adler.

Adler previously said Snyder’s office hired attorney Brian Lennon with Warner Norcross & Judd to help define search parameters and other work related to state documents requested through public records requests and the thousands of documents Snyder released voluntarily. He said Eugene Driker and his firm were hired to assist the state attorney general’s office with its investigation.

Democrats, including Greimel and Michigan Democratic Party chair Brandon Dillon, have repeatedly suggested the possibility of criminal charges against Snyder in their comments to media.

“Under no circumstances should taxpayers be on the hook for Snyder’s criminal defense attorneys,” Greimel said. “Snyder must immediately withdraw his outrageous request. Snyder’s criminal defense is the last thing that Michigan taxpayers should be asked to fund when Flint families still don’t have safe drinking water.”

Greimel and Dillon also claim Snyder’s office might have violated Michigan’s procurement laws because his office didn’t engage in a competitive bid process to hire the lawyers.

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