Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
We now learn that Governor Rick Snyder has approved the expenditure of $800,000 in state tax dollars, rather than the initially requested $249,000, to pay for outside legal counsel from the Grand Rapids law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd. What will these Warner Norcross & Judd lawyers do? It isn’t exactly clear. But they will play some part in “records management issues” and defending Snyder in potential criminal litigation stemming from the Flint Water Crisis.
It’s important to remember that the State of Michigan already employs full-time attorneys to defend officials like the governor in these kinds of cases. Apparently, however, these hard-working government lawyers just aren’t good enough for Snyder.
Typically, the State Administrative Board would have been required to approve this contract with Warner Norcross & Judd, just as it is required to approve most other outside payments of more than $250,000. Note that Snyder initially requested $249,000—an amount just below the $250,000 threshold. But now the payment to the same law firm for the same legal services has tripled. Why?
Under State Administrative Board Resolution 2011-1, which “[e]xcepts from Board approval contracts for materials and services approved by the Governor,” the governor may personally approve contracts that exceed the $250,000 threshold without securing final approval by the State Administrative Board. Therefore, Snyder is legally permitted to authorize an $800,000 contract for his own legal services with an outside law firm, without ever asking for permission.
Not that the State Administrative Board wouldn’t approve the request if Snyder asked . . . .
After all, consider the composition of the State Administrative Board. It is made up of Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Attorney General Bill Schuette, the State Treasurer, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Director of MDOT. In other words, a majority of the board consists of elected Republican officers and officials directly appointed by Snyder himself.
Here’s another interesting factoid: Between his one-term stint on the court of appeals and his election as attorney general in 2010, Bill Schuette briefly worked for Warner Norcross & Judd. Since his election as attorney general, Schuette has continued his close relationship with Warner Norcross & Judd, and has drawn several of his top deputies from that firm. As we all know, Schuette is conducting an “investigation” into the Flint Water Crisis, and is paying well over $1 million in state tax dollars to his own outside counsel—Flood Law, PLLC, in Royal Oak. (Apparently the seasoned criminal defense attorneys who already work for Schuette just couldn’t handle the job.) But unlike the money that Snyder has approved for Warner Norcross & Judd, the money that Schuette is paying to Flood Law, PLLC, does have to be approved by the State Administrative Board.
So Schuette’s pals at Flood Law will get rich investigating Snyder, and Schuette’s pals at Warner, Norcross & Judd will get rich defending Snyder. Isn’t that a cozy arrangement! Meanwhile, both private firms are taking tax dollars for work that could be adequately and professionally handled by in-house government lawyers. If you ask me, it looks like Schuette has a financial incentive to draw out his investigation as long as possible, knowing that both friendly firms will continue taking money from the taxpayers of Michigan. What do you think?
Sometimes it’s funny how things work in Lansing.