Vantage Points: Cahill’s decision to limit the viewpoint of the George Floyd Murder Trial

When painting the portrait of the model judge for a murder trial, one could select from a palette of attributes like meticulous calculation, attention to detail, objective listening, fair-minded reasoning, problem solving, and critical thinking blended with hues of virtuosity in contrast to decisiveness.

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Courtroom portraits paint judges historically. The media paints the view. Photo credit :famoustrials.com.

Society paints portrait judges based on their ability to effectively discern the weight of the merits with justice.

Democratic societies paint portraits of their judges at their courthouses who exhibit dedication to protections of freedom and jurisprudence not media prestige.

From the portrait vantage point of Judge Peter A. Cahill, the picture painted an authority figure who flip-flopped his decision to allow broadcast media in the courtroom, which opened the flood gate to new ways of covering murder trials. Cahill’s reverse decision landed Court TV over 22 million viewers the day of Derek Chauvin’s verdict.

The State of Minnesota selected Judge Peter A. Cahill as their Court TV world ambassador. Cahill resided over the Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin Trial viewed across the globe.

As Minnesota’s top pedigreed judge, Cahill’s career portrait showcases all forms of law demonstrating decades of dedication to his profession as a lawyer, professor, and critical thinker. Cahill, with grey splendor, did not anticipate biased trial coverage, setting the precedence of the United States Constitution’s discourse, which skated on the thin ice of juror exposure to Court TV ‘s commentary that exploited the fourth estate.

Court TV’s coverage appeared more like a sheriff of the wild west wrangling a runaway bandit wanted dead or alive. Cahill’s venue turned a blind eye to biased coverage and Constitutional ignorance.

Court TV’s trial by media sought to bring down Derek Chauvin like a town sasquatch on the run. Court TV anchors made sure to bring the opinions of expert witnesses to seal Chauvin’s fate during sidebars and deliberation.

In the meantime, Judge Cahill’s reverse decision painted the self portrait of second guessing across the globe. The only means to save face with justice would have been to only allow closed circuit view and no media at all.

From the vantage point of textbook decision-making, Cahill’s last-minute decision to allow courtroom coverage took high-stakes risks in a high-profile trial by endorsing Court TV’s subsidized commentary.

The George Floyd Murder Trial coverage painted the future of courtroom past practice line-by-line. Cahill’s social distanced portrait of a judge during a pandemic ruminated around second guessing where the trial was heading.

Cahill sat behind plexiglass, masked, and robed, mumbling into a microphone. Cahill’s selection of Court TV tolerated a broadcast service with a reputation for favoring the prosecution.

Judge Selection

The State of Minnesota selected Judge Peter A. Cahill to oversee the George Floyd murder trial at the Fourth District Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis.

Cahill grew up outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin graduating from Oconomowoc High School in 1977. His father, Jerome Cahill, served twice as District Attorney as both Republican and Democrat.

Judge Cahill was appointed May 30, 2007, elected in 2008, 2014 and 2020 whose current term expires in January 2027.

Cahill received his Juris Doctorate Degree through the University of Minnesota Law School graduating magna cum laude in 1984.

Cahill also received his Bachelor of Arts through the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts in 1981.

Cahill’s resume portfolio exuberates a variety of experience ranging from teaching, serving as a public defender, Domestic Abuse Prosecution Clinic Supervisor, County Attorney for the Violent Crimes Division, Managing Attorney for the Juvenile Prosecution, Chief Deputy Hennepin County Attorney, who taught legal writing, and lectured trial practice in Criminal Procedure and Advanced Trial Advocacy.

Cahill’s selection meant his career hung in the balance of public opinion as an elected official, while following in the footsteps of his father, which spotlighted his decisions, especially with jury selection.

Judge Cahill’s weighing of the merits over jury selection and the bystander footage risked exposing potential jurors to Court TV commentary. Although Cahill carefully examined each witness, their response to social media bias, their affiliation with groups, and their stance in the community, Cahill forgot to check the manual on screening for an unbiased media source for coverage.

Jury selection made for difficult decisions after realizing the impact of the bystander footage.

From a balanced and merit-weighted measure of integrity, the judge centers the defendant’s right to a fair trial as the fulcrum of jurisprudence.

The judge makes decisions like calling a mistrial, sequestering the jury, overruling objections, and determining whether to allow reporters in the courtroom. Judges’ decisions discern what ought to be allowed during trial. Judges select jurors during cross-examination. Jury selection during the trial inspected the beliefs of all those who were questioned based on their stance with bystander footage and social media.

Jury Selection

From the examination of a citizen journalism vantage point, the Cup Foods bystander footage argued the national riots were justified by the media as “violent protests.” Reporting riots as “violent protests” would be considered unethical based on the virtues of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The SPJ Code of Ethics states, “never deliberately distort fact or context. To be accountable and transparent. Journalists should explain ethical choices to audiences.” Violent protesting defuses all forms of moral code in a society.

Judge Cahill made decisions centered on social media organizations and their alliance with bystanders demanding justice.

Had Judge Cahill dismissed bystander footage as evidence, the fulcrum of justice could have favored the defense. Bystander footage became the fulcrum of jury selection.

Jury selection by Judge Cahill carefully examined the potential of social media influence affecting his trial as his second job.

The defense argued that jury selection would be too difficult with the bystander footage zooming in on Officer Derek Chauvin with a biased view. The defense spent each day questioning potential jurors regarding their stance with bystander footage.

Attorney Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, cross-examined jurors regarding the bystander footage.

The likelihood and stakes were high that potential jurors had been exposed to the ballooning of the footage by social media.

Prior to the trial, the media rarely disclosed the nature of the arrest stemming from Floyd purchasing cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, which started the chain-of-events. Judge Cahill’s jury selection faced the uphill battle of a hyper politicized trial, which made for a lengthy jury selection.

Judge Cahill made clear the jury would be required to view civil unrest as wrongdoing and those who believed violent protests were justified would be excused.

Rioting is civil disobedience and should never be tolerated according to the scholars of philosophy.

From a judicial vantage point, the decision to allow coverage assumed Court TV would cover their end as the means with their social contract with viewership. In retrospect to the national riots, the judge’s stance not to allow the broadcast of his trial was ironclad.

The decision to allow media coverage began with the defense’s request to petition the judge’s original order not to allow coverage, which changed the trial’s historical outcome. The defense’s request eventually argued the televised trial would not allow fairness.

Attorney Eric Nelson is responsible for his client’s decision and ultimately his future law practice. Judge Cahill remined jurors routinely that bias would not be allowed in his courtroom.

“Bias can affect our thoughts of who and what we see and hear,” Judge Cahill expressed to the jury unaware of the commentary happening on Court TV.

From the vantage point of viewers, watching through Court TV, Cahill was not about to let anything slide on his watch.

His job directed both the prosecution and defense to ask pertinent questions, limiting the scope of the cross-examination of jurors, and to dismiss potential jurors who would demonstrate a biased view towards police. Jury selection ended on March 29, 2021.

From a jurisprudent vantage point, once a judge commits to a ruling, the decision seldom gets overturned. Cahill’s reversing of his order affected trial coverage, evidence submission, media viewpoints, sidebars, and historical moments, allowing Court TV commentary lacked objectivity.

The judge’s primary job weighed the merits of expert opinions, witness testimony, and evidence to ensure Derek Chauvin received a fair trial, which required his focus, not inspecting journalism ethics.

Ironically, the defense’s request for trial coverage persuaded the judge to think twice. All parties of the trial were unaware of media coverage ethics. Court TV was their aggregating medium as the ends in their social contract to remain unbiased as a journalism normative standard.

Trial Coverage

Upon thoroughly investigating the background of Cahill, an open records request revealed on June 29, and September 11, 2020, the defendants brought motions before the court requesting audio and video broadcasts of the trials.

The state would not concede nor allow any audio or video coverage. After careful consideration, Cahill released his report to allow broadcast coverage. Cahill was not about to allow the jury to be scrutinized by a packed courtroom.

“Bias can affect our thoughts of who and what we see and hear,” Judge Cahill expressed to the jury unaware of the commentary happening on Court TV.

Court TV’s coverage of the trial did not offer an objective view, due to Judge Cahill’s decision, which dismissed journalism integrity.

The judge’s disregard to the fourth estate of the Constitution did not protect the journalistic interest of the viewer. Commentary tainted the altruistic view of the press.

Judge Cahill’s third job weighted the decision whether or not to sequester the jury daily. Cahill’s decision not to sequester until the end of the trial ran the risk of juror exposure. Jurors willfully admitted when questioned that family viewers watching Court TV had messaged them.

From the argumentative inspection of the defense attorney’s viewpoint, the trial was highly publicized, which would not allow his client a fair trial.

Nevertheless, the trial pressed forward once jury was selected by Judge Cahill. The court allowed three cameras: one in the back with the vantage point facing the witness stand, one mounted to the wall behind the jury box, and one “on or near the bench facing lectern where counsel examines witnesses,” as noted by Judge Cahill’s order.

The judge examined evidence through slide presentations during trial coverage. Aside from slides, the courtroom camera vantage points outlined by Cahill restricted viewers to a limited view.

Vantage points from bystander, body worn cameras, security cameras, and cell phone footage entered as evidence required Judge Cahill to determine their fitness in relation to the cause of Floyd’s death recorded on the scene.

Evidence Submission

Vantage points from bystander cameras provided jurors with a biased view of Officer Derek Chauvin allowing for prosecution and defense to recall through instant replay, which ran the risk of mistrial.

Watching George Floyd die over-and-over felt like backing up and running over roadkill. Where is the jurisprudence in that?

Judge Cahill’s decision to allow the prosecution to call several experts who recalled the footage led to the prosecution’s beating of the dead horse of redundancy called out by Cahill.

The security camera footage from inside the Cup Foods market told a different story. The security camera showed Floyd putting something in his mouth.

Cahill’s job sought to determine whether to allow evidence, to examine interpretations, and to call out any opinions presented by either party overruling objections that presented speculation.

The defense claimed Floyd put a pill in his mouth, whereas the prosecution objected, stating the footage would be too hard to tell, which Cahill sustained.

Upon deliberation, Cahill decided to convene for the day. Cahill appeared stoic at times, concerned with the statistic of a mistrial while dismissing the jury. 

On April 5, 2021, at 4:53 PM Eastern, Judge Cahill stated, “just remember, don’t talk to anyone from the media about the case,” laughing after removing his battleship grey face covering.

Media Viewpoints

The media’s viewpoint through Court TV, anchor Vinnie Politan examined the weighing of the verdict throughout the trial as a columnist. Politan brought in experts to weigh in on Cahill daily anticipating a mistrial.

The jury continued to remain free from sequester despite several close calls. Did Cahill make the right choice?

The court teetered at times over the consideration to sequester regarding the role social media played outside the courtroom. As protests formed throughout Minneapolis, crowds anticipated the judge’s decision to call a mistrial standing at the ready to develop into civil unrest.

From the authoritative vantage point, the judge shoulders the crux of accountability in the media for acquittal and mistrial sought to paint him as a failure. Judge Cahill’s decisions determined the outcome of a “blue-on-blue” controversy, which bared the weight to assign sentencing of a former police officer upon guilty verdict.

During the trial, citizen journalists on social media continued to comment to the world what they believed was unjust, which opined based on what was heard from Court TV, who acted as instigators. Citizen journalists use cell phone vantage points to skew their Facebook live view to persuade viewers to act.

Media reporting sources like the Star Tribune spotlighted Cahill’s dismissal of requests from state Attorney General Keith Ellison advising him not to stream the trial. Ellison argued forcing witnesses to expose themselves would invade their privacy leading to controversy.

Ellison felt threats and intimidation would result.  Ellison argued, “Cahill’s order sets a wider precedent that could require the broadcasting of all high-profile criminal trials.”

Vantage points become viewpoints. Viewpoints influence the masses through the media. The masses organize protests. Protests develop into civil unrest.

Judges face harsh criticism by the media as a part of their vocation. Public opinion and public approval determine the length of the judge’s career.

Vantage points by the media during trial coverage limited the amount of exposure members of the media would be allowed.

On April 14, 2021, WCCO 4 CBS Minnesota reported Cahill denied the request to acquit Derek Chauvin sharing vantage points from the trial. The reporter outlined key points regarding the odds of acquittal, which were presented by Attorney Eric Nelson on day two.

The spotlight shined on the opinion of Chauvin’s training steering away from Cahill’s decision-making ability. The coverage of the case provided viewpoints of the prosecution and defense who argued over the relevance to establish the use of force and whether it was reasonable.

Attorney Nelson attempted to raise ongoing concerns regarding media exposure through sidebar. Sidebars address the bench to cross-examine courtroom protocols during the discovery phase of the trial.

Sidebars

Trial coverage on Court TV presented a social distance view. One view showcased the judge, the next was the defense, and the third view shared the prosecution. When Cahill called for sidebar, all parties covered their mouths, as if they were calling an audible like a fourth down last-minute decision.

Side bars from trials in the past showed the attorneys approaching the bench. The George Floyd murder trial presented many new ways of approaching the bench.

This new method of sidebar changed the future of court vantage points by the media. Sidebars consider items off the record. Minnesota Court Rules require protocols when approaching the judge’s bench.

After the final sidebar, the defense called for another mistrial, which Cahill overruled. Derek Chauvin invoked his fifth amendment and Judge Cahill had the Hennepin County Court transfer evidence to laptop computers prior to closing statements.

The decision to sequester the jury came into play after the breaking news revealed Duante Wright had been murdered accidentally by Minneapolis police, which led to sequestering the jury finally.

The judge left jurors free to leave for the weekend who would be sequestered the following Monday.

Controversy broke out in the media with Congresswoman Waters demanding a guilty verdict. Cahill continuously cautioned jurors not to watch the news when they went home for the weekend.

Sequestering in the beginning would have shielded the jury from making biased decisions based on the probability of media exposure.

Judge Cahill’s job as an authority figure from his bench and plexiglass vantage point observed the pressure to finish the trial. From the media viewpoint, Cahill’s decision to allow media coverage tolerated the skewed view of his trial with Court TV viewers through commentary, which tampered the outcome.

Cahill’s decision to trust that his jurors would avoid the media after being called out several times walked the tightrope of mistrial. Cahill’s dismissal of the fourth estate tolerates courtroom paparazzi according to the Society of Professional Journalists.

Was commentary even considered when selecting Court TV?

Judge Cahill’s media selection indirectly exposed him to biased decision-making. One could argue and say Cahill would be protected under the Veil of Ignorance. The original position of Judge Cahill’s decision would not entertain any request to broadcast his trial.

Had he known about biased commentary examination by the Society of Professional Journalists, he could be liable. Ultimately, Cahill’s decision entertained the defense’s motion through Attorney Eric Nelson.

He was not advised of journalism ethics as a decision maker for the court. The broadcaster is responsible.

Court TV’s trial by media corrupts the Constitution, the justice system, and denied Derek Chauvin a fair trial. Judge Cahill’s leniency with commentary indirectly endorsed the double standard of Court TV’s biased coverage.

Weighing the merits of justice would rule Derek Chauvin could be considered the Court TV media’s Nelson Mandela. Shackled before the world like David Walker, masked like Bobby Seale, intimidated by Rainbow Push through Jesse Jackson by Congresswoman Waters, and put on trial by the Court TV expert commentary, paved the road to contempt without due process as a televised event.

Chauvin responded to a dispatch call reporting Floyd to the police for purchasing convenience store items with a counterfeit $20 bill. The security camera vantage point spoke the truth about Court TV’s trial by media, which wasn’t released when America began protesting with scattered incidents of rioting and looting.

Judge Cahill’s job from the slam of the first gavel sought to give Derek Chauvin a fair trial who let everything go ruling not to sequester. When one protected class attacks another there is a cancellation of civil rights when the media edits footage and dismisses objectivity, which is the Society of Professional Journalism Ethics perspective of the fourth estate’s vantage point in reverence to protecting the doctrinal authority of the Constitution.

-Robert Cobert

Columnist—The Capitol Capstone Journal

The Cahill Worker Profile Project for client:

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Feature Writing 303

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