By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA News Wire Contributing Writer
Famed Baltimore Attorney William “Billy” Murphy Jr., has filed a federal class action lawsuit alleging a pattern of behavior by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the mayor and other officials that Murphy said violated the constitutional rights of those who are being forced to pay for clean water but have never received it.
“The governor has to be held accountable,” Murphy told the NNPA News Wire in his first detailed interview about the lawsuit and the water disaster in Flint, where superstars like Aretha Franklin, Snoop Dogg, Diddy, Cher, Jimmy Fallon and others have been donating water bottles and funds to assist residents.
The lawsuit, filed on Sunday, Jan. 3, specifically names as defendants Snyder, former Flint Mayor Dwayne Walling, the state of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the state Department of Environmental Quality, the state of Michigan and the city of Flint.
Those defendants breached their duties by knowingly, recklessly and callously providing a toxic water supply that’s unfit for human use and consumption, Murphy said. Making matters worse, officials insisted that the water was safe and fit and they knowingly, recklessly and callously refused to reinstate a safe water supply despite ample evidence that the water was highly toxic.
Murphy was joined in filing the suit by Flint-based attorney Val Washington, who said officials have for quite some time ignored the contamination.
Both attorneys said the actions were part of a conspiracy.
“In conspiring to commit these constitutional and other deprivations and intentional torts, by actively discriminating against ordinary citizens while, conversely, showing preferential treatment toward certain state of Michigan employees, who were specifically aware of the degradation of water quality in Flint and were provided with safe, portable drinking water alternatives not available to the general public; ignoring citizen complaints regarding the toxicity of the water supply; and, actively misleading [residents] regarding the dangerous health hazards presented without any process – whether procedural or substantive – to seek relief,” Murphy noted in the court filing.
Murphy said that the situation not only denied local residents their constitutional rights, but local and state officials conspired to effect that denial which is an act that is “far more insidious than mere interference with their contract rights.”
As noted in a recent Washington Post profile of Murphy, the 72-year-old has been the lawyer to call for more than 45 years.
The longtime criminal defense attorney is respected and feared as a litigator and he’s been able to secure multimillion-dollar settlements in police brutality and racial discrimination cases.
Last year, the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore again thrusted Murphy into the national spotlight. He continues to represent Gray’s family while prosecutors press on with criminal cases against several police officers involved in Gray’s death.
Last month, Murphy was asked to come to Flint by a group of local ministers, he said.
“I had heard about Mr. Murphy for years, because of his excellent national reputation. But I never thought we would get a chance to work together to right such a tragic wrong to my beloved Flint,” said Washington, a former Circuit Court Judge who also has roots in Baltimore.
“We are delighted to be teaming up with legendary trial lawyer Billy Murphy to seek justice for the many violations of the constitutional rights of Flint residents,” Washington, 63, said of the decision to file a lawsuit that seeks injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
Once arriving in Flint, the experience was eye-opening, Murphy said.
“It used to be a vibrant community and now it’s distressed with over 40 percent of the people on the poverty line or lower. The Flint River has been polluted for years and nobody ever thought it was drinkable before this happened. The water wasn’t even fit for General Motors to use in its plant because it would corrode the auto parts,” he said.
Also named in the 41-page lawsuit filed by Murphy is Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, who were appointed as the powerful emergency manager in Flint, who oversaw the majority African-American populated city and seized legal authority from the city’s mayor and council.
Murphy said the move to appoint emergency managers represents a signature Republican tactic that serves to disenfranchise Blacks and take away any authority they may have had.
“Emergency managers only answer to the governor,” Murphy said, noting that Earley and Ambrose, among other things, unilaterally and purposefully abrogated the contracts of his clients for the purchase of safe and portable water by forcing them to contract for poisonous water at some of the highest rates in the country.”
With that, Earley and Ambrose in their positions as emergency managers, helped to create and escalate the dangers of poisoning the water consumers in Flint, including lead poisoning, Legionella, and other health hazards and, in doing so, deprived Flint residents of life, liberty and property without due process of law.
“It was obvious they knew and concealed the situation from the residents of Flint because state employees were given bottled waters at the same time that they told people that they were upset about nothing,” Murphy said. “These people are living a nightmare.”
Murphy is due back in Flint for a march on Feb. 19.