A Genesee Circuit Court Judge has limited the testimony of a water quality expert, ruling that the expert can only offer “fact-based testimony” in the criminal prosecution of four Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees.
Flint Water Crisis
In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan stopped getting its water from Detroit and instead used water from the Flint River in an attempt to reduce costs. Soon after the switch, residents began to complain about the water’s smell and taste.
Tests by the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Tech showed that the water contained dangerous levels of lead, which can have detrimental effects on the heart, kidneys, and nerves. The Virginia Tech study concluded that Flint water was 19 times more corrosive than Detroit water and that it was unsafe to drink or cook with.
Numerous lawsuits were filed against Michigan, the city of Flint, and the state and city officials who were responsible for switching the source of Flint’s drinking water and for monitoring the water quality.
Criminal cases were brought against some of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees who are alleged to be responsible, including Liane Shekter-Smith, former director of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance; Stephen Busch, a district supervisor; Michael Prysby, a district engineer; and Patrick Cook, a community drinking water specialist. Judge Jennifer Manley is presiding over the case.
The Water Expert
Warren Green was called to testify. Green is the vice president and chief technical officer at Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman and has over 38 years experience in engineering management and supervising water supply and treatment projects.
Attorney Mark Sweet requested a protective order to limit Green’s testimony to that of a fact witness, despite his qualifications as an expert witness. Green’s firm is being sued civilly for its involvement in the water crisis — for allegedly letting the contamination to occur and worsen. Sweet argued, “We’re asking that the court limit his testimony to only that as a fact witness, not expert witness…We believe Mr. Green should not be compelled to provide expert witness testimony against his consent.” Sweet noted that Green’s firm has been accused of negligence “in the very same issues we’re dealing with today. So any testimony that Mr. Green provides that’s not necessary for the criminal charges today could potentially prejudice LAN’s interests. It also could potentially prejudice Mr. Green’s interests.” Judge Manley agreed that Green should only be allowed to give “fact-based testimony.”
Green and his firm claim that they warned Flint officials that its water treatment plant was not ready for operation when it opened in April 2014. Green says that “the plant was found to be in such a state of disrepair we could not even conduct the review.” Green points to the lack of a chlorination system and testified that one of the defendants told him that corrosive treatment to the water was not required and a utilities administrator said that “we dodged a bullet” by not spending money on corrosion control.