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Former Michigan governor takes the Fifth on the witness stand

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Steve Carmody
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Michigan Radio
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (file photo)

Former Governor Rick Snyder invoked his Fifth Amendment right several times during a federal court hearing Thursday in Ann Arbor.

Snyder spent less than five minutes on the witness stand in a civil trial related to the Flint water crisis.

The trial involves damage claims on behalf of four Flint children who are suing two engineering firms hired as consultants on the city’s water system. It’s referred to as a bellwether trial, since it may serve as a guide for future lawsuits related to the Flint water crisis.

Defense attorneys wanted to ask a variety of questions of former Governor Snyder about his role during the Flint water crisis. But on the witness stand, Snyder would only say “based on the advice of counsel, I would exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the jury didn’t hear from the governor in person, it has seen a video deposition he gave in 2020.

The former governor is among a group of former government officials who have been the subject of a criminal investigation related to the water crisis.

U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy noted Snyder’s assertion of his right against self-incrimination is the subject of a motion before a federal appeals court. Levy ruled Snyder and the others could not invoke their Fifth Amendment right during the trial, since they did not use it during pre-trial depositions.

The Sixth Circuit Court has scheduled a hearing for later this summer on the motions filed by Snyder and other potential witnesses asking to invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination. However, the bellwether trial is expected to be in the hands of the jury long before the federal appellate court considers the motion.

Judge Levy told attorneys in the civil trial that she is considering informing jurors that four witnesses have invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The civil trial is now on hold for the July 4th holiday. When the trial resumes on Tuesday, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley is scheduled to take his turn on the witness stand.

Earley is expected to take the Fifth.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.