On July 14 Earl Gray, the attorney for defendant Thomas Lane, and Robert Paule, the attorney for defendant Tou Thau, accused Attorney General Keith Ellison of contempt of court by his issuance of a statement announcing the appointment of four Special Assistant Attorney Generals in the case. That statement, which was the subject of a prior post, merely said the following:
- “Seasoned attorneys join AG Ellison’s team pro bono in George Floyd case”
- “Includes former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, Minnesota attorneys Lola Velázquez-Aguilu, Jerry Blackwell, and Steve Schleicher”
- “Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced that four seasoned attorneys and trial lawyers have joined on a pro bonobasis the prosecution team he leads in the George Floyd case. This team includes attorneys from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.”
- “’Out of respect for Judge Cahill’s gag order, I will say simply that I’ve put together an exceptional team with experience and expertise across many disciplines. We are united in our responsibility to pursue justice in this case,’ Attorney General Ellison said.”
- “The attorneys joining the prosecution team, each of whom Attorney General Ellison has appointed a Special Assistant Attorney General, are:
- “Neal Katyal, partner at the international law firm Hogan Lovells, and former acting Solicitor General and former Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.
- Lola Velázquez-Aguilu, litigation and investigation counsel for Medtronic, and former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota. During her tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she prosecuted complex multi-defendant, white-collar crimes, including the successful prosecution and trial of several former executives from Starkey Hearing Technologies. Until today, she served as Chairwoman of the Commission on Judicial Selection, to which position she was appointed by Governor Tim Walz.
- Jerry Blackwell, trial lawyer and founding partner, CEO, and chairman of the Minneapolis law firm Blackwell Burke, P.A. In June 2020, he won a full, first-ever posthumous pardon for Max Mason, who was wrongly convicted of rape in connection with the infamous Duluth lynching of June 1920.
- Steven L. Schleicher, partner at the Minneapolis law firm Maslon LLP; former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the Winona County Attorney’s Office, and U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps. In 2016, he led the successful prosecution of the person responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.”
According to Mr. Gray, “Ellison should be jailed along with” his spokesman John Stiles. “There is no reason to announce that these so called ‘super stars’ are joining the prosecution and that they’re doing it for free. It is an obvious statement to the public that these ‘super stars’ lawyers believe that our clients are guilty. Further proof that the news release was done to influence the public is that it was released by John Stiles, who, according to Google, is a chief strategy officer and builds reputations and brands.”
Mr. Paule merely moved the Court for an order holding “Keith Ellison, the Attorney General for Minnesota and lead prosecutor in the above-captioned case, in contempt of court and ordering sanctions as a result of his actions.”
The Court’s Gag Order
The purported basis for these motions is the Court’s Gag Order of July 9, which prohibited attorneys and others working on the matter from publicly talking about “any information, opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence . . . either to the media or members of the general public. This includes, but is not limited to, any discovery provided to the parties, and any exhibits in the case.”
Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, believes it unlikely that the judge will sanction or have Ellison and Stiles arrested. “Judges do not like to sanction lawyers unless their conduct is outrageous.” At most, Daly thought, the judge might issue a warning or clarify his gag order.
I concur in Daly’s opinion. The Attorney General’s statement, in my judgment, did not concern the AG Office’s “opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence” or evidentiary “discovery” or “exhibits in the case.” Yes, the statement did contain “information” relating to the case, but it was not information relating to opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence or evidentiary discovery or exhibits in the case. Moreover, any of the parties in this or any other criminal or civil case has a right to hire new or additional attorneys and to give public notice of such developments.
In short, there is no basis in the Attorney General’s statement for the two defense attorneys’ assertion that it was intended to tell the public that these ‘super stars’ lawyers believe that our clients are guilty.’ It would be just as easy to speculate, without any foundation, that the statement was a sign that the Attorney General is worried about the strength of the criminal charges or the capabilities of the existing team of prosecution attorneys.
These motions are ridiculous and should be denied.
 Xiong, Defense attorneys in George Floyd’s death accuse AG Ellison of contempt of court, StarTribune (July 14, 2020); Minnesota Attorney General, Seasoned attorneys join AG Ellison’s team pro bono in George Floyd Case (July 13, 2020).