Week two of Derek Chauvin’s trial for George Floyd’s death continued with a bit of drama on Monday, March 15. Chauvin’s counsel was highly critical of the settlement announcement on March 12. The Minneapolis city council agreed to give lawyer Ben Crump and Floyd’s family $27 million to settle their wrongful death lawsuit. However, the announcement’s timing is at issue, and the Ellison family’s involvement inflames the suspicion that politics is at play.
Antifa’s Man Inside…
Keith Ellison is Minnesota’s attorney general, and his son Jeremiah Ellison holds a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. Both men have distinguished themselves for openly supporting Antifa. The older Ellison ran for and almost won chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee after Donna Brazile resigned in disgrace. He lost narrowly only after the specter of anti-Semitism arose around his support for the Nation of Islam.
Keith Ellison showed up at Chauvin’s trial Monday, not to present arguments but to bluster and bully Chauvin’s defense counsel. The court display came after defense attorney Eric Nelson heavily criticized the city council’s decision to announce a settlement during jury selection for the criminal trial. Nelson made it clear later that he was not accusing the Ellisons of collusion to deny Chauvin a fair trial, saying directly, “I’m not accusing Mr. Ellison of anything, but this is profoundly disturbing to the defense.”
Violation of Professional Conduct?
Keith Ellison’s performance wasn’t broadcast to court watchers viewing the video feed, but Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Paul Walsh witnessed the antics:
“Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is leading the prosecution’s case, came in the courtroom just as proceedings were about to resume and said something along the lines of ‘is there anything else someone would like to not accuse me of?’ in reference to when Nelson commented during motions that Ellison’s son Jeremiah Ellison is on the council and that the timing of the settlement was suspicious. The council unanimously approved the payout.”
Nelson discussed the settlement, its timing, and prejudicial effect. How could prospective jurors or already seated jurors be prevented from seeing this announcement? It’s one thing to say, don’t read articles about the Floyd case. It’s another thing entirely to say, don’t consume media or go on Facebook at all.
That’s precisely why Nelson had asked the judge to sequester the jury. Also, he petitioned the court to move the trial out of Minneapolis and for a continuance and more peremptory strikes in jury selection.
The prosecution reminded the court that they had no control over the civil litigation or what city council members do. Judge Peter Cahill was critical of the announcement but stopped well short of declaring bad intent. He asked prosecutors, “You would agree it’s unfortunate, wouldn’t you? That we have this reported all over the media when we’re in the midst of jury selection?” The judge went on to say:
“I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much. At the same time, I don’t find any evil intent that they were trying to tamper with this case … The timing is not related to this case.”
Cahill did note that “[t]here has been, what has to be characterized as prejudicial pretrial publicity. Not just on this matter.” Going forward, he might be more direct in questioning jurors to get more information on their exposure to pretrial public information. The judge thought, however, that the settlement’s timing had less to do with political concerns and more to do with normal civil litigation timing.
Cahill said he would rule later on the request to move the trial and for a continuance, but his manner suggested he would likely reject them. The judge made the point that moving the trial might not matter because the story has not been limited to the city. The settlement made news nationally, and there is no indication Chauvin may have a better chance somewhere else in Minnesota. Another request was to give the defense team additional peremptory challenges or juror strikes. Cahill turned this down, too, and said rightly that if any of the jurors they might examine had seen the story, and it prejudiced them, then those jurors would be rejected for cause by the court.
One defense motion granted was a re-examination of the seven jurors who were impaneled before the settlement was made public. The court will call them back to determine the effect of the settlement stories on them, if any.
The Star Tribune is keeping track of what may be the most crucial data point in the trial: the race of the jurors. It reported that “the panel consists of four people of color and five people who are white. More specifically: one multiracial woman in her 20s, two Black men in their 30s, one Hispanic man in his 20s, two white women in their 50s, a white man in his 20s, and two white men in their 30s.” Jury selection proved challenging again on Monday, with several candidates announcing their bias and, more troublesome, fear at delivering an honest verdict. Jury selection resumes Tuesday morning. Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to start on March 29.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.