Attorneys representing two former Minneapolis police officers charged with killing George Floyd accused Attorney General Keith Ellison of contempt of court: One asked him to be sanctioned and the other called for his arrest.
Earl Gray, who is representing Thomas Lane, and Robert Paule, who is representing Tou Thao, filed separate motions Tuesday objecting to Ellison issuing a news release Monday about the case after Judge Peter Cahill issued a gag order prohibiting either side from discussing such matters.
Ellison announced Monday that he had appointed four veteran attorneys as special assistant attorneys general on the Floyd case and listed their professional accomplishments.
"Ellison should be jailed along with" his spokesman John Stiles, Gray wrote. "There is no reason to announce that these so called 'super stars' are joining the prosecution and that they're doing it for free. It is an obvious statement to the public that these 'super stars' believe that our clients are guilty."
Tensions between the prosecution and defense have been escalating for more than a month as Ellison and several public officials spoke out about the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died May 25 after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly 8 minutes while Floyd said he couldn't breathe.
"We have no response," Ellison's office said in a written statement Tuesday.
Paule and Gray asked to be heard about the issue at a yet-to-be determined hearing.
"Defendant ... respectfully moves the Court for an order holding Keith Ellison … in contempt of court and ordering sanctions as a result of his actions," read Paule's motion.
The judge is unlikely to sanction or have Ellison and Stiles arrested, said Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. He'll likely issue a warning or clarify his gag order, Daly added.
"Judges do not like to sanction lawyers unless their conduct is outrageous," he said. "This gag order is unclear."
Ellison's office is leading the prosecution of Chauvin, Thao, Lane and former officer J. Alexander Kueng with assistance from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
Ellison sent out his news release Monday after some of the defense attorneys filed motions earlier that day objecting to the order and protesting prior remarks made by Ellison and other public officials.
"Out of respect for Judge Cahill's gag order, I will say simply that I've put together an exceptional team with experience and expertise across many disciplines," Ellison said in the news release.
In his motion, Gray said Ellison's move was intentional.
"Further proof that the news release was done to influence the public is that it was released by John Stiles, who, according to Google, is a chief strategy officer and builds reputations and brands," Gray's motion said.
Cahill issued his order last week prohibiting attorneys from publicly divulging "opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence."
All four former officers' attorneys filed motions Monday objecting to the order.
Their separate motions argued that the order violated constitutional rights to due process, free speech and a fair trial, and that it unfairly penalized the defense after prosecutors and public officials had spent weeks criticizing the former officers' actions.
Cahill warned at a June hearing that remarks from public officials, attorneys and others were threatening to prompt the court to move the trial or trials to another county because of the possibility of biasing potential jurors.
Chauvin is charged with one count each of second-degree murder, third-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. The other three are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Floyd family, planned to hold a news conference Wednesday morning in front of the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to announce a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the officers involved. Details of the lawsuit were not disclosed.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708