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Judge says Schuette can’t file his own brief in Flint water case

Bill Schuette photo
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

A federal judge has rejected Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s request to weigh in on a lawsuit related to the Flint water crisis, and said “superficial posturing” might be delaying a resolution.

U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson said Schuette crossed an ethical boundary when he asked to file a brief supporting a group of Flint pastors who are suing the state over the city’s drinking water crisis. That’s because Schuette’s office is already representing the state and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Lawson says Schuette can’t have it both ways – his job is to represent Snyder and the state and he’s not allowed to undermine the state’s position with a separate filing.

Lawson did not mince words. He said the filing did not add anything new to the case, but did undermine his client’s position.

“Superficial posturing does not contribute to the search for an equitable solution,” Lawson wrote.

Also from the opinion: “The proposed amicus brief has not introduced any new arguments or offered a perspective that has not been presented by the parties already. Instead, the attorney general has taken a position aligned with the plaintiffs and at odds with other attorneys in his own office. In doing so, he has managed to inject a troubling ethical issue into this lawsuit, potentially complicating adjudication of the serious legal questions before the Court, without adding anything of substance.”

Lawson said it is possible to represent conflicting interests in a case, but Schuette did not follow those rules.

Schuette Press Secretary Andrea Bitely said there are no plans to challenge Lawson’s decision. Her statement: “The Attorney General respectfully disagrees with the ruling because safe water is his priority. We originally obtained concurrence from all parties prior to filing, and because it failed to include mention of the conflict wall in this case, a long-established protective measure also used by Attorneys General Frank Kelley, Jennifer Granholm, and Mike Cox.  Attorney General Schuette will continue to fight aggressively for Flint families and remains thankful to the many Flint residents and elected officials who expressed their support of his actions.”

The Snyder administration is trying to get Lawson to reverse an order that requires the state to deliver bottled water to every home in Flint that doesn’t have a working water filter. There is another hearing in the case on Tuesday.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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