A Michigan judge dismissed felony charges against seven people on Tuesday The flint water scandalincluding two former state health officials blamed for deaths from Legionnaires’ disease.

The judge’s dismissal was significant but not a complete surprise after the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously said in June another judge, acting as a single-person grand jury, had no power to issue indictments.

Judge Elizabeth Kelly rejected the attorney general’s effort to simply send the cases to Flint District Court and turn them into criminal complaints, which is the typical way felony charges are filed in Michigan. It was a last ditch effort to keep things afloat.

“Anything stemming from the invalid indictments is irreconcilably tainted from the outset. . . . Simply put, there are no valid allegations,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s decision does not affect former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Only because he was charged with two misdemeanors — willful negligence — and his case is being tried by a different judge. But he was also charged in a trial that was invalidated by the Supreme Court. Its next meeting is on October 26.

In 2014, Flint’s Snyder-appointed supervisors took over the city from the regional water supply system and began using the Flint River to save money while the new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. But the river water was not purified to reduce its corrosive qualities. Lead had chipped off the old pipes and had been contaminating the system for over a year.

The Michigan Commission on Civil Rights said it was the result of systemic racism, doubting that the water switch and denial of complaints in a black-majority city would have happened in a white, thriving community.

A water tower at the Flint Water Works in Flint, Michigan towers over the city on March 4, 2016, nearly 2 years after the city’s water crisis began.

GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images

Separately, water has been blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which is usually spread through heating and cooling systems.

Former state health director Nick Lyon and former chief medical officer Eden Wells have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in nine Legionnaires-related deaths. They were accused of failing to warn the Flint area about the outbreak in time.

Lyon’s attorneys praised Kelly’s decision and called on the attorney general’s office to end the “misguided prosecution.”

“This abuse of the criminal justice system must be stopped,” said Chip Chamberlain and Ron DeWard. “Deceptive statements about what Principal Lyon did or did not do do not promote constructive public dialogue and do no justice to anyone.”

An email requesting comment has been sent to the prosecutor’s office.

In addition to Lyons and Wells, charges were dropped against Rich Byrd, who spent years handling Snyder’s affairs in state government; former senior assistant Jarod Agen; former Flint managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Early; and Nancy Peeler, Health Division Manager.

Michigan’s six-year statute of limitations could be a problem in some cases if the attorney general’s office wants to file charges again. However, the time limit for the Lyon and Wells charges will be longer.

Michigan prosecutors typically file felony charges in district court after a police investigation. The use of single-judge grand juries was extremely rare and was mainly used in Detroit and Flint to protect witnesses, especially in violent crimes, who could testify in private.

Prosecutors Fadwa Hammoud and Kim Worthy chose this route in the Flint water probe to secretly hear evidence and obtain indictments against Snyder and others.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testifies at a hearing on the Flint Water crisis
Governor Rick Snyder reviews documents during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

But the state Supreme Court said Michigan law is clear: A single-judge grand jury cannot issue indictments. The process was apparently never contested.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack called it “a return to the Star Chamber”, a derogatory reference to the repressive, closed style of justice in 17th century England.

Efforts to prosecute the people involved in the Flint water lead disaster have dragged on for years with little success.

Before leaving office in 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, promised to put people in prison. But the results were different: seven people pleaded no contest to the offenses that ended up being expunged from their records.

After Dana Nessel, a Democrat, was elected, she got rid of special counsel Todd Flood and appointed Hammoud and Worthy, a respected Wayne County prosecutor.

There is no dispute that lead affects the brain and nervous system, especially in children. Experts have not determined a safe level of lead in children.

Faced with a wave of lawsuits, the state agreed to pay $600 million as part of a A settlement of $626 million with Flint residents and property owners affected by lead-contaminated water. Most of the money goes to the children.

Flint in 2015 returned to a water system based in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile, by December last year, about 10,100 lead or steel water pipes were replaced in homes.

The city had 100,000 residents in 2010, but according to the government, the population has fallen by about 20% to 81,000 by the 2020 census following the water crisis.