Updated: September 11, 2020 04:11 PM
Created: September 11, 2020 03:58 PM
The prosecution team of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Attorney General Keith Ellison asked for and were granted, a reconsideration of a judge's order disqualifying Freeman and three other attorneys from the George Floyd murder case Friday, according to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
The attorney's office states that the rules were set by the Minnesota Supreme Court and they followed them.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank made most of the prosecution arguments in a nearly three-and-a-half-hour hearing in motions made primarily by the lawyers for the former Minneapolis Police officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. In a release, the attorney's office said just before the conclusion of the hearing, Frank asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to reconsider his ruling earlier in the day.
In making his ruling, the judge said Senior Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton were "sloppy in not having someone else present" while interviewing a key witness. The attorney's office denies the "sloppiness" claim, saying the attorney's office "fully stands by the work, dedication and commitment of two of the state's best prosecutors."
The attorney's office called the ruling "meaningless," saying the third party that Judge Cahill mentioned does not need to be a non-attorney. Sweasy and Lofton asked to leave the case on June 3, and Frank is the attorney of record, making Sweasy and Lofton valid third parties and eligible to be called as witnesses by the defense, according to the attorney's office.
"In his argument against the motion, Frank told Judge Cahill as much and cited the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in State v. Fratzke. The key phrase in that opinion is that '…it is proper under our system, and indeed wise, for the prosecutor to interview such witnesses personally, not only to verify the investigator's report but to acquaint himself with the personality of the witnesses so as to be aware how the witness will react on the stand. Here again the prosecutor should take the precaution of having a third person present,'" the release states, in part.
Since the Hennepin County attorneys conducted the meeting consistent with the direction of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, they are confident that this order will eventually be withdrawn or modified.
Attorney Eric Nelson, who is representing Chauvin, asked on Friday that the Hennepin County Attorney's Office be disqualified from this case. He based that on a memo from Sweasy based on the notes from Lofton in which those two, and Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Andy LeFevour and Freeman had met with Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker prior to filing murder charges against Chauvin.
Judge Cahill took the memo at face value and said it violated the attorney-witness rules, which he said requires a non-attorney to be present for discussions involving witnesses, according to the attorney's office.
However, the meeting was completely routine, and if the ruling stands, it would make it nearly impossible for prosecutors to obtain, understand and introduce evidence in a case.
Since the Hennepin County attorney's conducted the meeting consistent with the direction of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, the country attorney's office also believes this order will eventually be withdrawn or modified.
No dates for the reconsideration motion have been set.
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