A blistering ruling by U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright this week likely puts pressure on Minneapolis to settle a lawsuit by journalists accusing police of violating their constitutional rights, according to observers with knowledge of such cases.
No trial date has been set, and there is no hint that settlement talks are in the works. But Wright's sharply worded language suggests that the suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota (ACLU-MN) has been put in a stronger position, several attorneys said.
The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office had sought to quash the case with a summary judgment motion, but they were rebuffed by Wright.
"If you lose a motion for summary judgment, it typically raises pressure on parties to reach some settlement," said Senior District Judge Kevin Burke, former Hennepin County chief judge.
Wright, Burke said, "is a pretty moderate person. So if you have language [she used], my suggestion is that that record is pretty damning for the city."
Attorney Jordan Kushner, who has frequently brought lawsuits by protesters, said it's been the pattern of the city to settle such cases "once it's clear that they are going to be liable."
Kevin Riach, one of the attorneys representing the journalists, said they had not yet heard from the city, and the City Attorney's Office declined to comment.
"We are always happy to entertain discussions with the city about resolving this matter, but if it doesn't resolve we look forward to proving our case in trial," Riach said.
Former City Council Member Cam Gordon said he believed Wright's ruling puts pressure on the city to settle. "In my experience, the city has preference for settling rather than exposing themselves and the public to the truth," he said.
In her ruling Tuesday, Wright wrote that the record "provides substantial evidence that [Minneapolis Police Department] officers deliberately and systematically targeted journalists, including plaintiffs, who were identifiable as members of the press and not committing any crimes."
She added: "Plaintiffs have provided evidence of continuing widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by MPD, deliberate indifference by city defendants, and evidence of a causal link between MPD's custom and plaintiff's injuries."
The ACLU-MN also is suing the Sheriff's Office for the alleged mistreatment of journalists and violation of their rights during protests in 2021 in Brooklyn Center after the police shooting death of Daunte Wright, when then-Sheriff Dave Hutchinson was in charge.
The Sheriff's Office, which declined comment Friday, has claimed "qualified immunity" shielding a government official who does not violate an individual's statutory or constitutional rights.
Wright granted summary judgment on one such claim but denied it on another. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office filed a notice Thursday on behalf of the Sheriff's Office with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it intends to appeal the denial of qualified immunity.
Jeff Storms, an attorney who has represented clients suing the city, said an opinion like Wright's "always puts pressure on a city to resolve the matter."
Robert Bennett, who has also frequently sued the city, said Wright's ruling was consistent with investigative findings of Minneapolis police by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Minnesota Human Rights Department.
The ACLU-MN sued the State Patrol in the same case, but it settled in 2022 after the patrol agreed to an enhanced process for reviewing the complaints of journalists and an injunction preventing the patrol from assaulting or detaining journalists.