Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s office racked up $3.4 million in legal bills stemming from the Flint water crisis. The office hired private law firms to represent both the governor himself and his staff. The tab was nearly triple the original $1.2 million allocated in the budget.
In a disclosure on Thursday, the office said two private law firms billed Snyder for $1.2 million for work performed during the months of February, March and April. An additional $2.2 million will be required to pay the remaining legal bills for May, June and July.
The governor’s office and three other state departments have spent a total of $5 million in legal fees to private firms. The firms represented employees under investigation or named as a defendant in lawsuits related to water contamination in Flint.
To cover the cost of the mounting legal bills, the governor’s office is increasing the contracts of two law firms. Eugene Driker’s firm will have its contract increased from $400,000 to $1.4 million.
Warner, Nocross & Judd LLP, a Grand Rapids law firm, will have its contract increased from $800,000 to $2 million. In the case of the Grand Rapids firm, the costs are primarily related to the hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation that the governor has made public regarding the water crisis in Flint. The firm will also continue to provide representation to the governor and his staff, who are still being investigated by the Attorney General.
It is within Synder’s power to increase these contracts without having to get approval from the State Administrative Board. The board has approved $4.9 million for the Attorney General’s investigation in to Flint’s lead-contaminated water.
The $3.4-million bill does not take into account future expenses that may incur in August and the coming months.
Brandon Dillon, Chairman of Michigan’s Democratic Party, said on Thursday that legislators in the state should move to block Snyder from using any additional public funds to cover his legal bills.
One law firm confirmed that Snyder used private dollars to pay at least one legal bill related to the Flint crisis.
According to federal records, the governor paid $190,000 to the DLA Piper firm in April and June. The funds came from the Governor’s Club, which is a fund established under IRS code Section 527.
The Governor’s Club discloses contributors, but the record shows that Snyder moved $250,000 into the fund from another fund that is not required to disclose any donors.
The Department of Environmental Quality has already spent $1.4 million on private attorneys for state workers who were under investigation, some of which were charged criminally. Taxpayers spent $264,000 on private representation for Stephen Busch, water regulator, in criminal charges, civil lawsuits and depositions.
Busch’s case was just the start – hundreds of thousands were spent on representation for other state employees as well.
Anna Heaton, spokeswoman for Snyder, said, “We just don’t know what, if any, the future costs will be.” Taxpayers may be on the hook for even more legal expenses until the Attorney General completes its investigation.