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Federal appeals court agrees to consider Snyder's request to take "Fifth" in Flint water civil trial

Rick Snyder.jfif
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
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Former Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI)

Former Gov. Rick Snyder will have a chance to ask a federal appeals court to allow him to take the fifth in a civil trial involving Flint water.

The case involves damage claims on behalf of four children against two engineering firms hired as consultants on Flint’s water system. The companies deny responsibility.

The former governor, along with former Flint Emergency Managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley, Former Snyder advisor Rich Baird and Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft are fighting subpoenas to testify in the civil trial. They are all facing criminal charges related to the Flint water crisis.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy says Snyder and the others cannot invoke their right against self-incrimination, since they’ve already testified under oath in pre-trial depositions.

But Tuesday, a three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court said it will allow Snyder and others to file paperwork to appeal the lower court decision.

"We may permit an appeal to be taken from an order certified for interlocutory appeal by the district court if: (1) the order involves a controlling question of law; (2) an immediate appeal may materially advance the ultimate conclusion of the litigation; and (3) a substantial difference of opinion exists about the correctness of the decision. Together with the statutory factors, prudential factors may also guide our exercise of discretion."

The appeals court did acknowledge the need for a speedy review of the request.

"The parties appear well positioned to adhere to a shorter schedule than proposed by Petitioners, given the speed with which they briefed the relevant pleadings below"

However, just filing the paperwork will take until the middle of next month, which may be well after the plaintiffs in the case will have called their last witness.

The plaintiffs in the case have already called former emergency manager Gerald Ambrose. But on the witness stand, Ambrose indicated he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination despite the judge’s ruling. The plaintiffs played a video of Ambrose’s 2020 deposition. Though attorneys on both sides say they still want to cross examine Ambrose on the witness stand.

The plaintiffs also plan on calling former city public works director Howard Croft and former Gov. Rick Snyder. Both are expected to follow Ambrose’s lead and inform the court they plan to take the Fifth.

Former Flint water plant operator Mike Glasgow is expected to spend most of the rest of this week on the witness stand in the civil trial. Glasgow has testified to being pressured by his superiors to switch Flint’s drinking water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, despite his concerns about his staff and plant equipment.

Two expert witnesses will likely take the stand next week.

Starting in 2014, improperly treated river water damaged pipes, which released lead and other contaminants into Flint’s drinking water.

This week marks the eighth anniversary of Flint’s ill-fated drinking water switch.