Derek Chauvin trial: Who is Judge Peter Cahill?

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Presiding over the murder trial for ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill is handling what’s viewed by many as a defining moment for law enforcement and race relations in America following the death of George Floyd last May.

But before being assigned to the trial likely to be watched around the world, Cahill had accumulated over four decades of experience, serving as a defense attorney, prosecutor and administrator until he was ultimately appointed to the bench by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, in 2007.

He was subsequently reelected in 2008, 2014 and 2020. His current term expires in January 2027, according to his biography on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website. Chief Hennepin District Judge Toddrick Barnette selected Cahill to oversee the cases in connection to Floyd’s death.

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“This moment is not too big for him,” Barnette told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last week. “He will make thoughtful legal decisions based upon the law, even if the decisions are unpopular.”

Cahill made the unprecedented order to livestream the Chauvin murder trial and fought many attempts made by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to keep cameras out of the courtroom.

The judge initially dropped the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, but as jury selection was happening earlier this month, the Court of Appeals sought to have the trial stalled. A Minnesota Supreme Court ruling ultimately compelled Cahill to reinstate the third-degree murder count against Chauvin, who also faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death.

In this image taken from video, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill speaks during pretrial motions, prior to continuing jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Thursday, March 11, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse.
((Court TV/ Pool via AP))

Also amid jury selection, the city of Minneapolis announced a $27 million civil settlement to be paid to Floyd’s family, and Cahill then recalled seven previously sat jurors, at the request of Chauvin’s attorney, to see if media coverage about that news swayed their ability to be fair and impartial. Cahill has repeatedly expressed in court that he wished city officials would stop publicly commenting on the case amid trial proceedings.

Cahill’s experience includes serving as chief deputy under then-Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar – the current U.S. senator from Minnesota who previously bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Cahill became a judge the same year Klobuchar joined the Senate.

While studying at the University of Minnesota School of Law, Cahill clerked for top criminal defense attorney Michael Colich. Once he graduated in 1984, Cahill worked for the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, then joined Colich’s criminal defense firm and eventually opened his own private practice.

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In 1997, Cahill became the Assistant Hennepin County Attorney in the Violent Crimes Division. He subsequently served as the managing attorney in the Juvenile Prosecution Division, chief deputy Hennepin County attorney and then worked for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

Cahill, 62, is also assigned to preside over the trial in August for the three other officers involved – Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao – who were each charged with two counts of aiding and abetting and second-degree murder in connection to Floyd’s death.

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