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Legal experts say it's unlikely Chauvin trial will be delayed or moved

Judge Peter Cahill is currently considering a motion from the defense to move or delay the trial after news of last week's civil settlement.

MINNEAPOLIS — For a second straight day, Judge Peter Cahill said Tuesday he’s considering motions from Derek Chauvin’s defense team to delay the trial or even move it out of Hennepin County, although multiple legal experts told KARE 11 they do not expect the judge to grant those requests.

Judge Cahill already denied motions from defense attorney Eric Nelson to fully sequester the jury and provide his team with more strikes against prospective jurors. However, he has yet to rule on the motions for continuance (delay) or change of venue.

Nelson argued again Tuesday that news of a $27 million civil settlement with George Floyd’s family may hinder the jury’s “presumption of innocence” toward his client, although the state portrayed the impact of the settlement as “frankly overblown.” Judge Cahill has said in court repeatedly that he finds the timing of the settlement concerning, even if there was no bad intent.

Joseph Daly, a longtime Twin Cities attorney and professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law who is not involved in the Chauvin case, told KARE 11 that the settlement brings up reasonable questions for the criminal proceedings.

But he does not anticipate that Nelson’s team will be successful in their requests to halt the trial or move it.

“I’ll make you a prediction: Judge Cahill will not grant a change of venue and Judge Cahill will not grant a continuance,” Daly said. “But I think [the judge] will be very, very alert to the possibility of knowledge of this $27 million settlement.”

On the matter of changing the venue, Daly said he’s never heard of a situation where a judge approved switching locations during jury selection.

“I suspect he’d have to start all over picking a jury because that’s why you’re changing the venue, you’re  trying to get an unbiased jury as best you can,” Daly said, pointing out that a new venue still wouldn’t change the fact that most Minnesotans have seen or heard something about the case. “It’s going to be hard to find a jury that hasn’t seen this video.”

Lee Hutton, a managing partner at Hutton Madgett Law Firm and another independent legal expert, said he also doesn’t expect to see a delay. Judge Cahill, after all, denied a request from the state last week, after prosecutors argued that jury selection should be halted until the matter of the third-degree murder charge was settled.

“I think this judge has really been dedicated to keeping this trial going,” Hutton said. “If I was a guessing individual, I would conclude this trial will move forward in the timeline already set.”

Even if he rules against the delay and change of venue, Judge Cahill said he’ll bring back the first seven seated jurors in this case for re-questioning on Wednesday morning. In court, Cahill said he’ll conduct this quickly, over Zoom, to see what those jurors know or heard about the civil settlement. Only Cahill – not the attorneys – will be able to ask questions.

Retired Judge Shaun Floerke, now the head of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, has worked with Cahill in the past. He said he trusts that Cahill will probe the jurors carefully to see if the settlement has impacted their ability to remain impartial, and that he’ll instruct them not to consider the civil case in the criminal proceedings.  

“You’re always wanting to find out what they’ve been exposed to. And he’s got to share it, right? If all seven of them haven’t heard about it, then he’s the one telling them about it,” Floerke said. “When you’re in the courtroom, I’d say, look around: all you learn comes from inside this courtroom… Whatever you bump into out there, doesn’t matter. You’ve got to commit to hearing the case through what you learned here.”

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