Flint water researcher's defamation suit challenged

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — A Flint, Michigan, resident is among those embroiled in a legal battle over a letter criticizing a Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the city’s water crisis.

Flint resident Melissa Mays and the Campaign for Lead Free Water’s Yanna Lambrinidou and Paul Schwartz filed an Aug. 10 motion to dismiss Marc Edwards’ $3 million defamation lawsuit against them, The Roanoke Times reported.

Edwards has accused the three defendants of orchestrating a “smear campaign” against him. At the heart of the matter is a May letter signed by more than 60 Flint residents and the defendants, accusing Edwards of defaming Flint residents, interfering with their efforts to self-organize and abusing scientific authority, among other allegations. The motion didn’t take responsibility for organizing the letter, but asserted it was protected by free speech rights.

“My clients — a Flint mom, Edwards’ former co-researcher, and a community advocate — are being silenced and threatened with homelessness by a frivolous $3 million lawsuit because 60-plus Flint residents signed a letter that said no more and no less about Mr. Edwards than he has said about himself,” defendants’ attorney William Moran said in an emailed statement.

But Edwards argued the defendants “all harbor ongoing personal animosity” toward him and stand to benefit financially, professionally and socially from the diminishment of his status.

His July filing said his former co-researcher, Lambrinidou, of harboring “severe and persistent animosity,” attributed to a dispute over intellectual property arising from a Virginia Tech course they taught together.

Edwards also asserts that Schwartz, Mays and Lambrinidou’s Campaign for Lead Free Water aims to position itself as a credible expert “in an area of research and advocacy to which Edwards has devoted more than a quarter century of his life.”

Edwards is seeking damages for what he characterized as damage to his reputation, loss of grant funding opportunities, stunted career development, a negative effect on eligibility for awards, diminished potential earning capacity and severe emotional distress to his family and himself.

“I’m confident that I had no alternative but to file (the lawsuit),” Edwards said in a Monday interview with The Roanoke Times, adding that he doesn’t like being characterized as a bully.
The defendants’ 35-page motion hit back, labeling Edwards’ claim as “frivolous” and a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” designed to silence criticism.

“The lawsuit represents a cynical attempt by Plaintiff to strip the residents of Flint of their right to self-determination by replacing their voices with the judgment of Virginians who, for better or worse, would be tasked with deciding whether a Flint mom and two community activists are to suffer unconscionable financial harm and what the future shall hold for a community ravaged by a water crisis,” the motion read.

Edwards was appointed to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force overseeing the state’s response to the Flint water crisis.