Derek Chauvin Trial: Initial Commendations and Thank You’s

The first three weeks of the Chauvin trial focused on jury selection with opening statements scheduled for March 29th. These three weeks also prompt the following initial commendations and expressions of gratitude. [1]

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill [2]

This judge as the chief architect of this performance has demonstrated rectitude, wisdom and patience with obvious awareness of the importance of the case for the State of Minnesota, the United States of America, the rest of the world and the issue of racial justice. Thus, he decided to use the rarely used technique of sending a lengthy questionnaire to the large pool of prospective jurors to aid in their selection.

Judge Cahill also recognized the challenges of COVID-19 and potential protests by deciding to live stream the trial, require face masks and social distancing, having plexiglass partitions erected in the courtroom and limiting the number of spectators in the courtroom. In addition, he decided to grant special access to the many members of the media who are interested in the trial.

The Judge also had the wisdom during these three weeks to reinstate the third-degree murder charge and thereby correct his previous failure to follow a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision on this issue. In addition, the Judge patiently dealt with the challenges for this trial of the City of Minneapolis’ surprise announcement of its $27 million settlement of the civil case for money damages by the Floyd family in federal court.

Thank you, Judge Cahill!

Judge  Cahill’s Staff and Court Personnel

Obviously Judge Cahill could not have devoted virtually all of his time these past three weeks (and significant time since the start of the Chauvin case (and the repeated cases against three of  the latter’s colleagues) last June without the assistance of his law clerks, secretaries and others. 

Nor could the Judge have made the arrangements for courtroom security, including live streaming, without the assistance of other court personnel.

Thank you, personnel serving Judge Cahill’s and the District Court!

Prosecutors [3]

Stephen Schleicher is a pro bono Minnesota Special Assistant General with important responsibility for the in-court prosecution of Chauvin. Steve is a former federal prosecutor and a Partner and Co-Chair of the Government and Internal Investigation Group at the Minneapolis law firm of Maslon LLP, which has at least 100 other lawyers. His B.A. cum laude is from the University of Minnesota Duluth, and his J.D. cum laude in 1995  from William Mitchell College of Law. I have seen him briefly on the live streaming of jury selection in the Chauvin case, and he was relaxed, casual and warm in his questioning. Entirely appropriate.

Another pro bono Special Assistant Attorney General is Jerry Blackwell, who may give the opening statement on Monday. He is a prominent Minneapolis trial lawyer on complex corporate litigation who last year obtained a posthumous pardon for a Black man wrongfully convicted of rape in 1920 before the notorious lynchings in Duluth. A Black man, Blackwell is the founding partner, CEO and Chairman of another Minneapolis law firm, Blackwell & Burke P.A., which proclaims that its lawyers are “true players in the Fortune 500 legal market.” (The other founding partner was Martin “Skip” Burke, who previously was one of my partners at the Faegre & Benson law firm.)

Also on board are Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his Office of over 120 attorneys with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank expected to play a major role at the trial. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office of 460 employees. is also part of the prosecution team. 

Another pro bono Minnesota Special Assistant Attorney General for this case, who occasionally argues important legal issues in this case, is Neal Katyal, a former Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the U.S. who has argued over 40 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a partner in the Washington, D.C. co-headquarters of the international law firm of Hogan Lovells with 2,400 attorneys in 55 offices around the world. In addition, he frequently comments on legal issues on MSNBC. His B.A. degree is from Dartmouth College. His J.D. from Yale Law School, 1995.

Thank you, Steve Schleicher, Jerry Blackwell, Neal Katya and the other attorneys for the prosecution!

Erik Nelson [4]

Mr. Nelson is the lead attorney for Chauvin. He holds a B.A. degree from Eastern University in Pennsylvania and is J.D. in 2000 from St. Paul’s Hamline University School of Law. He is a partner and one of 10 attorneys at the Halberg Criminal Defense firm in Minneapolis.

I have seen him more frequently in my tuning in to the live streaming of the jury selection. He too has a relaxed, casual and warm manner of questioning the potential jurors, frequently referring to the individual’s responses to the questionnaire. He introduces the jurors to his client, Chauvin, who is dressed in suit, dress shirt and necktie, which helps to humanize him, rather than the policeman who held Mr. Floyd on the pavement.

Since Nelson is only one of 10 lawyers in his law firm, I was concerned whether he had enough people to help him on this long and complicated case, but he has other legal support: consultations with the three other law firms representing Chauvin’s co-defendants; and eight other attorneys who work with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPO). 

Thank you, Erik Nelson!

The Media

The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent four criminal cases against Chauvin and three other Minneapolis ex-policemen have been consistently, fairly and thoroughly covered by Minneapolis’s major newspaper, The StarTribune. In addition, similar coverage also frequently appears in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and The Guardian (from London).

Thank you, Media for your coverage!

The Potential and Selected Jurors

Over 300 residents of Hennepin County filled out and returned the court’s lengthy questionnaire about various issues related to the case and over 100 came to the court to be questioned by the Judge and attorneys about their opinions regarding the case. And many of them said they believed it was their civic responsibility to do just that.

Thank you, fellow citizens for fulfilling your civic responsibilities.

Families of the Trial Participants

All of the above participants presumably have important emotional and practical support from members of their families.

Thank you, family members!

George Floyd Supporters [5]

The supporters of George Floyd and the conviction of Chauvin and his three co-defendants were restrained during these first three weeks. Let us pray that this passionate restraint will continue during the rest of the trial. Such tactics, for this commentator, will be more effective than violent tactics. A recent such positive action was the prayer vigil and rally at Minneapolis’ Greater Friendship Missionary Church organized by the Floyd family and featuring their attorney Ben Crump and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Thank you, Floyd Family and supporters!

=============================

[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One (Mar. 15, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Two (Mar. 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Three (Mar. 24, 2021). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—-Topical: George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com.

[2] Judge Peter A. Cahill, http://www.mncourts.gov; Judge in Derek Chauvin’s Trial Has A Reputation For Being Fair, Decisive, www.npr.org (Mar. 10, 2021); Olson, Judge Peter Cahill faces huge challenge leading Derek Chauvin trial, StarTribune (Mar. 26, 2021).

[3] Mason Partner Steve Schleicher Continues Service as Special Assistant Attorney General on Attorney General Ellison’s Prosecution Team in the Trial of Derek Chauvin, http://www.maslon.com (Mar. 12, 2021); About us, http://www.maslon.com; Our Firm, http://www.blackwellburket.com; Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, http://www.ag.state.mn.us; Overview, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, http://www.hennepinattorney.org; Overview, http://www.nealkatyal.com; Neal Katya, http://www.wikipedia.com; Neal Katyal, http://www.hoganlovells.com; About us, http://www.hoganlovells.com; Marinow & Bailey, Derek Chauvin’s lawyer appears outnumbered at trial. But colleagues say Erik Nelson’s low-key style is easy to underestimate, Wash. Post (Mar. 27, 2021).

[4] Salter, EXPLAINER: Chauvin’s lawyer is outnumbered, but has help, StarTrib. (Mar. 14, 2021); Marinow & Bailey, Derek Chauvin’s lawyer appears outnumbered at trial. But colleagues say Erik Nelson’s low-key style is easy to underestimate, Wash. Post (Mar. 27, 2021).

[5] Family of George Floyd to host vigil in Minneapolis on Sunday, MINNPOST (Mar. 26, 2021); Norfleet, Street navigators aim to mediate between protesters and police during Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, StarTribune (Mar. 26, 2021).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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