AG Nessel’s former law partner lands job in her department

Michigan

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looks on during a Dec. 15, 2020, press conference in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of Governor)

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s former law partner has landed a job in her department after working for more than a year as a part-time contractor on the Flint water prosecution team.

Chris Kessel was hired as an assistant attorney general in mid-March and reports to Fadwa Hammoud, solicitor general and leader of the Flint water team, spokeswoman Courtney Covington Watkins told The Associated Press.

Watkins said Nessel was not involved in the hiring decision.

She noted that the attorney general has stayed away from the criminal side of the Flint investigation while representing the state in civil lawsuits related to the city’s lead-contaminated water in 2014-15.

The Associated Press asked to speak to Nessel and Hammoud this week, but Covington Watkins said they “can’t make an interview happen at this time.” There was no response to an email sent to Kessel.

Nessel and Kessel worked together before Nessel, a Democrat, was elected attorney general in 2018.

Kessel joined the Flint water team in August 2019 after he and Hammoud signed a 14-month contract that paid him $125 an hour to bill no more than 80 hours a month, according to documents obtained by the AP.

His hiring occurred a few months after Hammoud dropped charges against eight people in an investigation of Flint’s water and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. She said the probe would start from scratch. In January, nine people were charged, including former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Kessel’s contract was extended to March 2021. The initial $140,000 cap was raised to $200,000, although it’s not clear how much he was actually paid. Covington Watkins refused to release that information without a formal public records request.

Kessel was hired full-time in March with an annual salary of about $134,000.

“He went through the normal interview process for hiring and is a well-respected criminal attorney with enviable credentials from his time in private practice,” Covington Watkins said in an email.

On his LinkedIn page, Kessel says he specializes in criminal defense, family law and civil litigation. He hasn’t been a prosecutor.

Kessel said he started working with Nessel in private practice after leaving the Wayne County public defender’s office.

“I have represented clients alleged to have committed almost every criminal charge Michigan has to offer,” he said.

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