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Judge In Derek Chauvin's Trial Has A Reputation For Being Fair, Decisive


Jury selection is underway in the murder trial against Derek Chauvin. He's the white former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. The video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes spread around the world. And now a Hennepin County court is trying to seat a jury that can be fair. The spotlight is on the judge overseeing this case. Here he is addressing potential jurors.


PETER CAHILL: My name is Pete Cahill, and I am one of the judges of the district court. And you have been summoned as potential jurors in the case of State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin, which is a criminal...

MARTIN: Cahill is the judge in Chauvin's case and in the cases against three other former officers that are each being tried separately in connection to Floyd's death. NPR's Leila Fadel is covering the Chauvin trial from Minneapolis and joins us now. Good morning, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about Judge Pete Cahill?

FADEL: Cahill was a prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and then served as the top adviser to Senator Amy Klobuchar when she was county attorney here. He was appointed to the bench in 2007 by the Republican governor at the time. He's a father of four, a grandfather, and he has a reputation for being fair, smart, decisive, bold. Michael Colich worked with Cahill when he was a criminal defense attorney at Colich's firm. And this is what he said.

MICHAEL COLICH: The world's watching him. But I have no doubt that he's up for the job. And I think that when he was selected, I think this whole community here in Hennepin County thought that was the perfect choice. He's not going to be intimidated. And you're going to see that as the trial goes on. He'll let the lawyers do their jobs, but he will be in control.

FADEL: One example of Cahill running a tight courtroom is when he recently reprimanded an attorney who didn't use Mr. in addressing Chauvin.


CAHILL: Mr. Iyer, we refer to everyone by title, so it's Mr. Chauvin, please.

SUNDEEP IYER: Oh, my apologies, Your Honor.

MARTIN: So we're already seeing Judge Cahill navigate this very complicated case. There's another issue, though, we should talk about. There's an unresolved question about the charges that Chauvin is facing, right? How does that complicate things?

FADEL: Right. The state's upset. They don't believe the judge should have started jury selection at all. That's because the Minneapolis Court of Appeals last Friday decided Cahill made a mistake by not reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, who's already facing a second-degree unintentional murder charge and second-degree manslaughter charge. The state argues that means Cahill's required to stop jury selection until this appeals process is resolved and has asked the higher court to intervene.

And while other judges might have put the brakes on out of an abundance of caution, it didn't stop Cahill. Local attorneys who know him say that's his style. Cahill made the legal decision that he has the jurisdiction to oversee everything in this case other than that unresolved question of that possible additional charge. Here's what he said in court.


CAHILL: Unless the court of appeals tells me otherwise, we're going to keep moving.

FADEL: As we know, jury selection started yesterday.

MARTIN: Does Cahill have experience, Leila, presiding over high-profile trials like this?

FADEL: Yeah, he's done other murder trials. One of Cahill's decisions that wasn't a murder trial does come to mind from 2015. It involved organizers of a big Black Lives Matter protests at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the year before. Those organizers faced a series of misdemeanor charges for planning the protest. Cahill dismissed all those charges, called the protests peaceful in his decision but kept trespassing charges against some individual demonstrators.

Nekima Levy Armstrong was one of those organizers that was charged.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: He was always cordial and respectful. And I felt that he was fair in terms of how he handled that particular case.

FADEL: She notes this case is much more fraught.

MARTIN: NPR's Leila Fadel, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.