Late last month, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley opened his campaign for governor by attacking Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation of the Flint water crisis. But, in accusing Schuette, who is also running for governor, of a “highly politicized” investigation, it seems Calley sought only to protect his own political fortunes, while demonstrating abject indifference to the plight of the people of Flint or respect for the judicial process.
As a 13-year assistant prosecutor in Detroit who had the privilege of working in the Attorney General’s office for another eight years, let me dispel two of the myths perpetrated by Calley and others who have attacked this investigation.
This is a political investigation
This myth ignores one important fact: Neither Schuette nor anyone else investigating the Flint water crisis polluted the drinking water of the people of Flint. Because this man-made problem was too big and costly for any local prosecutor’s office, let alone the limited financial resources of the Genesee County prosecutor’s office, the attorney general’s office was duty-bound to investigate here. Precisely to avoid charges of playing politics, Schuette put together a team of professionals that includes the well-respected local Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, the former chief judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals Willam Whitbeck, former Detroit FBI chief Andy Arena, and well-known criminal defense attorney Todd Flood to advise him on all charging decisions. Contrary to Calley’s allegations, it is hard to imagine a more professional or less political team making the decisions in this very sensitive case.
These are good people who should not be charged.
One of the individuals charged is Nick Lyon, the director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. Former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who gave Lyon his first job in state government, and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Chief Maura Corrigan, who preceded Lyon as director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, have both defended Lyon, saying he should not have been charged, in part because he is a good person. Their comments show they are loyal and good friends to Lyon. Yet every day our criminal justice system deals with good people — cops, ministers, moms and dads — who did wrong or failed to do what the law required them to do. It is a hallmark of any justice system that not only the “bad” are held accountable, but also those who wear suits, have a good jobs or good families, are also held accountable. It is not the job of Schuette’s team to decide not to prosecute Lyon because he was a good person; rather, it is their job to follow the evidence and charge accordingly. If Lyon is convicted, the sentencing judge can consider Lyon’s positive attributes.
Whenever prosecutors investigate the acts of government officials, there is admittedly always the danger that prosecutors may inadvertently criminalize bad policy decisions or incompetency or wrongly tarnish reputations. But that is why we have checks and balances that include judges and juries to check the acts of wayward prosecutors.
However, here it is important to note that the Flint water crisis investigation has already led to three convictions. That means three adults, all professionals who had good jobs in government and were represented by good lawyers, have admitted they broke the law for acts related to the Flint water crisis.
These three convictions should be an admonition to Lt. Gov. Calley and the armchair pundits to shut up and let the professionals do their jobs.
With the passage of time it is all too easy to forget that for two years tens of thousands of Michigan residents could not drink, bathe or play with the water coming out of their faucets without risk to their health. Not only do those thousands deserve a thorough investigation of those acts, all of Michigan does. So let’s let that investigation happen and save any political judgments until after all the cases play out in the courtrooms of Genesee County.
Mike Cox is an attorney in Livonia and was Michigan’s attorney general from 2003 to 2011.