Jury set to deliberate against engineers involved in Flint water crisis
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CN) — A federal civil lawsuit against two engineering companies accused of contributing to the tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, reached the final stage on Thursday as closing arguments were completed and that the jury was preparing to deliberate.
Wayne Mason of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, attorney for Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, or LAN, used his folksy demeanor for a spirited defense of the engineering firm.
Mason was stopped by U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy early in his statement to note that while he continued to refer to LAN CTO Warren Green, it was LAN on trial and not Green.
“I want to be clear that a company acts through its employees,” the lawyer replied to the criticism.
Mason said he and his team couldn’t figure out why LAN was included in the trial.
“The testimony that we were hearing was about things that he knew nothing about…it was things that happened when he wasn’t in Flint,” he said of Green.
The attorney said there was one primary reason his client was named as a defendant.
“You probably understood exactly what they wanted. It’s the color green,’ he told jurors.
He added: “We have to look like plums on a tree.”
Mason said there was nothing wrong with the work LAN did for Flint and instead pointed the finger at local government officials. He also criticized the intentions of the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
“The scammers want to divert your attention from the real facts…those city, state and federal officials who haven’t done their job,” he said.
The jury trial began in February and featured testimony from dozens of witnesses. It is considered a landmark lawsuit because it could predict how fair other plaintiffs might be if they decided to go to court against these defendants, LAN and another engineering company, Veolia North America. The companies are not part of a $626.5 million settlement approved last year.
The plaintiffs in the case are four Flint children, whose attorneys say the two engineering firms were negligent in not asking the city to properly treat water taken from the Flint River starting in 2014.
On Thursday, Mason told jurors in an Ann Arbor federal courtroom that LAN was not included in the decision-making process to move to Flint River and accused city officials of avoiding testing that could hamper the plan they agreed on.
“Not being able to do operational testing meant not being able to test water quality…but you know who wasn’t disappointed when the city of Flint couldn’t do those quality tests: money people,” he said.
Mason said that in all the years the water crisis has been investigated, no one has blamed LAN or Green.
When Mason finished his statements, Levy expressed concern about his rhetoric towards the plaintiffs’ attorneys and chastised his approach.
“It will not be allowed in the…pleading because it violates…the rules that guide pleadings,” the judge said.
Levy told the jury to disregard those statements and disregard any financial motive on the part of plaintiffs’ attorney.
Attorney Corey Stern of Levy Konigsberg Stern, representing the children, dismissed the attacks and said the lawsuit’s focus was clear in his rebuttal.
“For us, this case involves four children,” he said.
Stern said the defense had a lot of good stories, but those were the “bad stories.”
The attorney argued that Veolia North America, or VNA, was likely to get a $2 million contract from the city, but knew it couldn’t get the deal if Flint returned to Detroit waters.
“Let’s be intellectually honest when we evaluate the evidence,” Stern pleaded.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating on the case as early as Thursday afternoon.
Stern began with a lengthy closing argument on Wednesday, his voice cracking at times with emotion.
“Flint’s water crisis is what happens to a community when no one is looking,” he said.
In February, Stern argued in his opening statement that VNA downplayed the option for Flint to return to the city of Detroit’s water source because the company saw an opportunity to run the Karegnondi Water Authority for a purpose. lucrative.
VNA attorney Daniel Stein of Mayer Brown said in his closing statement on Wednesday that the water crisis can be attributed to the inaction and incompetence of government officials who were more concerned with saving $12 million. dollars a year from the Detroit water connection.
He said that VNA was never responsible for the water plant, but there are now workers whose reputations have been tarnished.
“In this courtroom, they were falsely accused of poisoning children…so no, it’s not damage control…it’s a defense,” Stein said.
The defense attorney was careful not to call the child applicants liars, but suggested there were other factors at play.
“We don’t deny there was a water crisis… whether there is evidence of a lead crisis is another story,” he said.
In his opening statements in February, Stein called the contamination crisis a “massive failure of government” and blamed former Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who he said could have ordered a return to driving. Detroit Water earlier, but did nothing until October 2015.
He concluded his closing statement by revisiting Snyder’s guilt and blaming it on a short-sighted administration.
A historic $626.5 million crisis settlement was finalized last year and included payments for Flint citizens and business owners affected by the poisoned water.
The crisis began in April 2014 when a state-appointed emergency official switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint water treatment plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials admitted they did not require anti-corrosion chemicals as part of the water treatment process.
Snyder was criminally charged in January 2021 in Genesee County District Court with willful dereliction of duty for his role and pleaded not guilty to the allegations. The case was bogged down in appeals court until recently, when the charges had to be dropped due to a procedural error, according to a Michigan Supreme Court ruling. A hearing in the Snyder case is scheduled for next month in Genesee County District Court.
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