Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is paying her former law partner, a Detroit-based criminal defense attorney, a six-figure salary to work on the Flint water crisis case.
Chris Kessel (pictured with Nessel above) was retained in 2019 under a contract with the AG’s Office due to his “specialized expertise and experience in a particular field of law, conflict situation or contractual provision.”
But Kessel’s specialty while working in private practice with Nessel was criminal law, particularly criminal sexual conduct cases, and divorces, according to the former website for the duo’s firm. The site gives no indication that he had expertise in legal issues dealing with public health or environmental protection or water systems that would relate to the lead contamination of Flint’s water.
The defendants in the long-running Flint investigation include former governor Rick Snyder.
As first reported by The Detroit News, Kessel’s initial contract as a “special assistant attorney general” began nearly two years ago and ran through March 31. He was initially brought on board as a part-timer who was paid $125 an hour.
On March 15, he was upgraded to full time at a salary of $133,990 annually. A 2008 law school graduate, Kessel bills himself as “Metro Detroit’s best criminal law and family law attorney.”
Nessel, a Democrat, quit the firm in 2018 to run her campaign for AG, winning election that November.
Though she did not touch the subject on the campaign trail, Nessel and Kessel Law had for years prominently promoted their aggressive courtroom approach toward witnesses making criminal sexual conduct allegations.
They boasted of one 2015 case where Kessel “grilled” a 12-year-old alleged rape victim, “carefully and meticulously” picking apart the girl’s story and winning an acquittal for their client, the girl’s uncle.
Last week, when pressed by The News about the decision to hire Kessel, a Nessel spokeswoman said: “Mr. Kessel was hired because he is an exceptional attorney and an asset to the Flint criminal prosecution team.”
Nessel’s office declined to say how many outsiders — special assistant attorneys general — were assigned to the Flint water investigation. The newspaper was told they would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to gain that information.