Attorney General Dana Nessel will stay out of the ongoing criminal prosecution cases against current and former state and local officials related to the Flint water crisis, she said Thursday.
She held a wide-reaching press conference in Lansing that also touched on that ongoing criminal probe and two separate investigations related to sexual abuse from Catholic clergy and former Michigan State University gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar.
Nessel said she will be working to settle 79 pending civil lawsuits against the state related to the Flint water crisis.
The decision marks a shift from her predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who oversaw Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. He brought charges against 15 state or local officials, eight of whom are facing trial while seven took plea deals.
Nessel had criticized Schuette, who was term-limited, during her 2018 campaign over his personal involvement in the criminal Flint water crisis cases. She said she will instead seek to settle pending civil charges against the state related to the federal clean drinking water act and other violations.
Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud will now lead the criminal probe with the assistance of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who worked on Nessel’s transition team after she won the election for attorney general. Flood will now work under Hammoud as a special assistant attorney general, Nessel said.
“It was really important for us to have people working on these cases that were actually accountable to this office and accountable to the people of this state, because this, after all, is the people’s law firm,” Nessel said.
Seventy-nine ongoing civil lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Detroit allege violations to federal rules on education, disabilities and drinking water. The attorney general will be overseeing those cases on behalf of the state and will not be privy to any information related to the criminal investigation unless it is public, she said.
That will be under Hammoud’s purview with Worthy’s assistance.
The solicitor general said the shift is “bringing the power back to the people by making sure that leadership … comes directly from this office,” rather than a private law firm.
Flood signed a contract under Schuette that kept him on the case after the Republican former attorney general’s term was up.
But he brings three years of “valuable institutional knowledge, commitment and relationships from his tenure as the special prosecutor of those cases,” Hammoud said.
“We’re not throwing everything out and starting from zero,” she said.
When asked by a reporter whether Hammoud intends to interview former Gov. Rick Snyder in the Flint probe, the solicitor general said her team is reviewing all evidence.
“The people of Flint were wronged. I do not have preconceived notions about who must be charged,” Hammoud said, adding that “justice needs to be served … and no one is above the law.”
Hammoud said she is also negotiating a new contract with Flood that will determine his pay.
Nessel called it “bizarre” that Schuette would “farm out” that work “to a private law firm with virtually no oversight by the office of the attorney general, who was essentially authorizing those cases.
“And that bothered me a lot,” she said.
Flood told the Michigan Advance he was not informed of that decision prior to the announcement in mid-January, or why.
“It’s a great decision; they didn’t have to explain why,” he said.