Derek Chauvin trial: Defense asks for delay, change of venue over civil settlement announcement

An attorney for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, is asking the judge to delay Chauvin’s trial over concerns about how the recent announcement of a $27 million settlement for the Floyd family will affect his client’s ability to get a fair and impartial trial. 

"I am gravely concerned with the news that broke on Friday relevant to the civil settlement in this case," Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson said, adding that it has the "incredible propensity to taint the jury pool." 

City leaders announced the record settlement on Friday, with all city council members voting to approve the money to settle the civil suit brought by the family. Nelson called the timing of the announcement "suspicious." 

"The fact that this came in the exact middle of jury selection is perplexing to me," Nelson said. "Whose idea it was to release this information when it was released when we have jurors in the courtroom, we have jurors seated in this case and we have seven more jurors to find." 

When asked about timing of the settlement, the city deferred to City Attorney Jim Rowander’s comments during Friday’s press conference, in which he said, "We are trying to be very respectful on the criminal proceedings that are now underway and we’re now in jury selection and I think it wouldn’t be wise for all of us to comment on something that is ongoing."

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Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said the state has no control over Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council. 

Schleicher said he agreed with Judge Cahill that the timing of the civil settlement announcement is unfortunate, but said he is not sure "if it cuts for us or against us." 

"It would be our strong preference that we’d be trying this case in a vacuum with no pretrial publicity, it would make things a lot less complicated," he said. "But that’s just not where we are. This is the case that we have."

Judge Cahill said he wishes city officials "would stop talking about this case so much," but that he does not think there was "any evil intent on the timing."

Nelson pushed back, saying, "We have a mayor who is a lawyer by trade. He should know better." 

In addition to his motion for continuance, Nelson also raised the possibility of renewing a previous motion for a change of venue for the trial. Judge Cahill said he is taking both motions under advisement.

If he does not delay the trial or change its location, Nelson argued Judge Cahill should recall the seven jurors who were seated during the first week of jury selection and question them on the civil settlement and whether they can still be impartial in the case. He also said the court should offer the defense additional peremptory strikes and immediately sequester the jurors. 

Judge Cahill granted the defense’s motion to call back the seven jurors, who had already been seated, at some point. However, he denied the defense’s motion for additional peremptory strikes, saying it was unnecessary at this time because neither side has used all of their strikes yet. The defense has used nine of their 15 peremptory strikes so far and the prosecution has used five of their nine.

Two more jurors were seated on Monday, bringing the total number of jurors seated in the trial so far to nine. Both sides will continue questioning potential jurors until they have 12 jurors and two alternates.