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Joint Defense Team Wins Unanimous Michigan Supreme Court Ruling in Flint Water Crisis Litigation

July 11, 2022

Varnum litigators were among the defense team successfully representing former Director of Michigan Health and Human Services, Nick Lyon, in charges stemming from the Flint Water Crisis. In what was described as “an astonishing defeat” by The Associated Press, the Michigan Supreme Court threw out indictments brought by Attorney General Dana Nessel against the former director.

Lyon’s defense team had argued that the one-person grand jury established by the Attorney General (AG) had no power to issue indictments against the former director. In a unanimous opinion published on June 28, the court ruled that the AG acted improperly, saying that state laws authorize a judge to investigate, subpoena witnesses and issue arrest warrants as a grand juror, “but they do not authorize the judge to issue indictments.”

Varnum attorneys Ron DeWaard, Brion Doyle and Regan Gibson served on the joint defense team alongside lawyers from Willey & Chamberlain, Bursch Law PLLC and Chartier & Nyamfukudza. DeWaard led strategy relating to attorney-client privilege issues, including winning an order for the AG’s office to implement a “taint team” in order to preserve privilege in discovery involving 20 million documents. Chip Chamberlain of Willey & Chamberlain took the lead on briefing at the Michigan Supreme Court, and John Bursch of Bursch Law PLLC handled oral argument.

DeWaard credited cross-firm collaboration, playing to each other’s strengths and commitment to standing up to prosecutorial overreach as key factors in the outstanding result.

“The core defense team had worked together on Flint-related matters since 2016 when the initial set of charges were filed against Director Lyon,” DeWaard said. “The team’s collective knowledge of key facts, issues and ability to rapidly construct a defense strategy, particularly in a high-profile and sensitive matter, proved to be a true differentiator.”

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