The cases of four fired Minneapolis police officers have been assigned to Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who began his career as a defense attorney before serving as the top adviser to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar when she was county attorney.
Defense lawyers have 10 days to file to remove Cahill as the judge, but they would have no say in who replaced him and they could not then remove that judge. Lawyers for the four did not return calls Friday. All are expected in court at 9 a.m. June 29.
The judge, who began his career in the county public defender’s office straight out of the University of Minnesota School of Law in 1984, has extensive experience in high-profile cases. He has been a judge since 2007 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican.
Cahill, who also served as the county’s chief judge, is known for being decisive and direct. Last year, he sentenced Kenneth Lilly, of St. Paul, to seven years in prison for shooting a school bus driver on a snowy winter day in 2019.
Cahill told Lilly he didn’t believe Lilly feared for his life when he was struck by a slow-moving bus and chastised him for not knowing a child was on board the bus.
“What else would a school bus be carrying?” Cahill asked.
Lilly was represented by Thomas Plunkett, who now represents J. Alexander Kueng, one of the former officers charged with pinning Floyd to the street along with Thomas Lane, and Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck. Also charged is former officer Tou Thao, who kept concerned bystanders away from Floyd and the officers.
Last year, Cahill also sentenced Thomas Incantalupo, a former St. Louis Park ice skating coach convicted of repeated sexual assaults on a student between 14 and 16 years of age. After telling Incantalupo his apologies “ring hollow,” Cahill sentenced him to 24 years. Incantalupo was represented by Earl Gray, who represents Lane.
Before becoming a judge, Cahill spent 10 years in the county attorney’s office, seven of them as chief deputy, the top staff job to the county’s elected prosecutor.
The cases against the four officers could be tried together or separately. The choice of a judge to manage them is significant because the judge sets the tone inside and the parameters for access to the courtroom. Incoming Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette assigned the cases to Cahill.
Interest in the cases could dwarf the global attention on the county courthouse for the trial of Mohammed Noor, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in April 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian, in southwest Minneapolis.
Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.