Judge Will Decide In August If MI Health Chief Will Face Trial in Flint Deaths

Jul 25, 2018

A lawyer for Michigan's health director urged a judge Wednesday to "resist public pressures" and dismiss criminal charges arising from the Flint water scandal, arguing that the head of a sprawling state agency shouldn't be held responsible for the deaths of two people during a Legionnaires' disease outbreak.

It was standing room only as spectators without seats were allowed to jam the main aisle to listen to final arguments. Judge David Goggins must decide whether there's enough evidence to send Nick Lyon to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, a low legal threshold in Michigan. State prosecutors said a timely warning about Legionnaires' could have saved lives.

Goggins had signaled weeks ago that he would make a decision Wednesday, but he postponed it until Aug. 20.

Lyon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the highest-ranking official to be charged in the Flint water crisis. The water supply was contaminated with lead from old pipes in 2014-15 when water drawn from the Flint River wasn't treated to reduce corrosion. Some experts believe the bad water also contributed to Legionnaires' disease. Legionella bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems, triggering a severe form of pneumonia.

An outbreak was announced in January 2016, although Lyon knew there were Legionnaires' cases a year earlier. His lawyers said there was much speculation about the cause and not enough information to share with the public in 2015.

"We fully appreciate the court is under tremendous public pressure to do something," defense attorney John Bursch told the judge. But he urged Goggins to "resist those public pressures" and dismiss four charges against Lyon, including manslaughter.

Prosecutor Todd Flood, however, said Lyon shouldn't be let off the hook.

"He could have put an end to the suffering," Flood said.