One thing you godda love about lawsuits is “discovery”. It’s what goes on right after you sue and the party you sued answers. Then you get to ask them to turn over almost any document relevant to the claims or defenses. Almost any document that has any possible relevance at all is game.
And sometimes you turn up some real gems. It’s what I call “getting the goods”.
Think about the lawsuits in the 70’s against Big Tobacco. Imagine finding – hidden in the reams of papers turned over to you – internal reports admitting that Big Tobacco manipulated nicotine levels to “hook” smokers to their dangerous product. Or that they knew their product caused cancer even as they denied it publicly. It’s a “gocha” moment! How much money is that kind of evidence worth at trial!?
Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: The Flint, Michigan water scandal. Lawyers have now filed three suits against the State of Michigan on behalf of Flint residents who have suffered from the toxic water they have been drinking. Two additional suits – class-actions – have also been filed against the Governor and others. And guess what those lawyers are going to ask for? emails. Internal mems. All the communications in any form between the various governmental and health agency heads and underlings.
The key issue in a case like this is: What did they know and when did they know it? More specifically, when did the authorities know that the kids of Flint were drinking water poisoned with led, and when did they finally do something about it. That “gap” is going to be crucial. Also crucial will be when they should have known the water was harmful, but did not care enough to find out.
As with any juicy scandal, there are already signs of a cover-up. When Gov. Rick Snyder was asked this week when he learned the water was harmful, he couldn’t recall. And the health department has been stalling on responding to a college professor’s request for public records that might show who knew what and when.
Stay tuned for “Watergate II“!
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.