Court Hearing in Criminal Cases Against the Four Ex-Policemen in George Floyd Killing      

On July 21 Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill held a hearing to hear arguments on several pending motions in the criminal cases against the four ex-police officers involved in the May 25th killing of George Floyd.[1]

First, was the motion by the four ex-policemen to hold Attorney-General Ellison in contempt of court for making a public statement about his hiring, pro bono, four additional attorneys for the prosecution. Before the hearing, an Assistant Attorney General said this motion was a ploy to smear the prosecution, and during the hearing the Judge said the statement was innocuous and did not violate the gag order.

In any event, during the hearing, the judge vacated the gag order. The Judge said that order could have been more narrowly drawn as it “didn’t work” and  “may have exacerbated the issue” by causing parties to “tip toe” around in their public statements while leading the news media to rely on anonymous sourcing.

Second, the Judge heard arguments on the motion by a media coalition to release the video footage of two body camera footage of the police’s restraint of Mr. Floyd, but did not rule on that motion.

During the hearing, the attorney for defendant Thomas Lane, said that Floyd had “swallowed drugs” as Lane approached the car and that the bodycam video actually showed Floyd “stuffing counterfeit bills down his [car] seat before he showed his hands.”

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

[1] Montemayor, Hennepin County judge drops gag order in case against four ex-cops charged in Killing of George Floyd, StarTribune (July 21, 2020); Ibrahim, Hennepin County judge lifts gag order in George Floyd criminal case, Twin Cities Pioneer Press (July 21, 2020); Lambert, Judge lifts gag order in criminal case against four former Minneapolis police officers, MINNPOST (July 22, 2020).

 

 

Defense Attorneys Accuse Attorney General Ellison of Contempt of Court in George Floyd Cases  

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.[1] 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[2]

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.”

Reactions

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.

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

[1]  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).

[2]  Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

 

Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing

On July 13, the Media Coalition of local and national media companies filed a motion for the immediate release of the bodycam footage of the killing of George Floyd on May 25th.[1]

The motion papers alleged that the court’s insistence that the videos be viewed by appointment only in the Hennepin County Government Center violates state laws governing public records, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, these media companies requested the Court “immediately make the BWC [body-worn camera] footage available for copying by the press and public so that it may be widely viewed not just by those who have the time and wherewithal to visit the courthouse during a global pandemic but by all members of the public concerned about the administration of justice in one of the most important, and most-watched cases, this State — perhaps this country — has ever seen.” [2]

The attorneys for the Coalition also said that “releasing the transcripts without the accompanying footage is the sort of piecemeal disclosure that threatens not only to mislead the public, including potential jurors, but also to destroy the public’s trust in the judicial system.” Moreover, they argued that a written transcript only captures what someone said, not actions. “The transcripts don’t capture non-verbal noises, tone of voice or other elements. In addition, the transcripts of Lane and Keung’s body camera videos differ during crucial moments of the encounter. Allowing journalists to copy the footage, watch it multiple times, transcribe it and compare it to the transcripts and to time stamps from the bystander video will help reporters piece together a more complete story.” [3]

In addition, the motion papers argued, “There is no reason to believe that making the BWC footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial .… As days of unrest in the Twin Cities showed, it is vitally important that the public have full confidence in the process and outcome of this criminal prosecution.”

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP-TV; and the New York Times Co., among others.

The Coalition is represented by  attorneys Leita Walker, a partner in the Media and Entertainment Law Group in the Minneapolis office of the Ballard Spahr LLP law firm, and Emmy Parsons, an associate in that Group.

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

[1] Xiong, Media coalition calls for immediate release of body camera footage in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 13, 2020); Assoc. Press, Media: Body Camera Video in Floyd Case Should Be Made Public, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2020).

[2] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com  (July 9, 2020).

[3] Quotations from the transcripts of the bodycam footage were included in Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal charges in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

 

Derek  Chauvin and Tou Thau Object to Gag Order 

On July 13, that attorney for Derek Chauvin, one of four defendants in the criminal cases over the death of George Floyd, filed an objection to Judge Peter Cahill’s gag order. in addition, the attorney for another defendant, Tou Thau, filed a motion to vacate the gag order.[1]

That order, it is argued, violates Chauvin’s federal and state constitutional rights to free speech and a fair trial. The attorney asserted, “For more than a month, the press, popular figures, high ranking politicians, and the attorney leading this prosecution [Ellison] — as well as his councilman son — have all rendered their verdicts in this case and on the most public stages possible. And they have all deemed the Defendant guilty.” By issuing that order before Chauvin or his attorney had made any public statement, the court effectively has allowed “the repeated and unmitigated condemnation of a criminal defendant by non-party public officials and celebrities.” As a result, the jury pool already allegedly has been tainted.

Chauvin’s attorney also argued that “the judge inappropriately issued the order without citing legal authority or convening a hearing on the matter, depriving Chauvin of his constitutional right to due process.”

Therefore, that attorney requested the court to vacate the order.

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

[1] Xiong, Attorney for Derek Chauvin objects to judge’s gag order in George Floyd death, StarTribune (July 13, 2020); Chauvin’s attorney objects to gag order in George Floyd case, MINNPOST (July 13, 2020), That gag order was issued on July 9. (Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).)

 

 

Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases  

On July 9, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill issued an order prohibiting 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.” However, “access to public records [in the cases] is not restricted by this order.”[1]

The Order applies to “all parties, attorneys, their employees, agents, or independent contractors working on their behalf.”

The Order was prefaced by the following statement, “The court has been made aware that two or more attorneys representing parties in . . .[these] cases granted interviews or talked with the media yesterday, expounding on the merits of the case or commenting on other aspects of the case after a motion to dismiss was filed in [the Lane case]. The court find that continuing pretrial publicity in this case by the attorneys involved will increase the risk of tainting a potential jury pool and will impair all parties’ right to a fair trial.”

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

[1] Gag Order, State v. Chauvin, Thao, Lane, Kueng, Dist. Ct. Files 27-CR-20-1646, 12949, 12951. 12953 (July 9, 2020); Xiong, Judge issues gag order in trial of ex-officers charged in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 9, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge imposes gag order on attorneys in George Floyd case, StarTribune (July 9, 2020).