The defense attorney representing Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, is receiving support from a police union’s $1 million legal defense fund, as well as a 12-person team of lawyers so far not seen inside the courtroom, according to a report.
As the trial is broadcast via livestream from the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, has delivered opening statements and cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses before taking a seat beside his client.
His assistant, Amy Voss, a licensed attorney, usually sits in the row behind them.
But outside of the courtroom, Nelson, a private attorney with the firm Halberg Criminal Defense, is also being supported by a dozen-lawyer team courtesy of a $1 million legal defense fund from the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association, USA Today reported. The association did not respond to a Fox News request for comment.
Defense attorney Natalie Paule, one of the lawyers representing another former officer, Tao Thao, declined to comment on whether their team expects to receive similar financial backing from the police union, citing instruction not to speak with media during Chauvin’s trial.
According to testimony from several witnesses during Chauvin’s trial, Thao was the officer who prevented bystanders gathered outside of Cup Foods on May 25, 2020 from intervening as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he called out that he couldn’t breathe. Thao, as well as former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane, face aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter charges and will face trial together in August.
Lane’s defense attorney, Earl Gray, told USA Today that defense lawyer up against prosecution by the state and federal government is a “David and Goliath” scenario, with the defense as the “underdog.” Therefore, the $1 million in funding will help the defense offset the vast resources already available to prosecutors, including both funding and investigators.
Because Chauvin paid police union dues during his 19 years on the job, some argue he is entitled to the robust defense afforded by the legal defense fund. But critics, namely Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, called into question the union’s credibility in contributing to the conversation on police reform while simultaneously shelling out money for Chauvin’s defense.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison quickly took over prosecution for the case from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who first charged Chauvin last May. Prosecutor Matthew Frank, head of the attorney general’s criminal division, has taken the lead in the courtroom so far.
Several high profile attorneys are working for the prosecution pro-bono, including Steve Schleicher, who voiced the state’s side during jury selection, and Jerry Blackwell, founding partner of Blackwell Burke, who has questioned several witnesses called to the stand this week. Other private attorneys assisting prosecution include Neal Katyal and Lola Velázquez-Aguilu.
Another figure at play is the $27 million settlement the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay Floyd’s family. The announcement came during jury selection and Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill agreed to re-question seven sat jurors to ask whether the news affected their ability to be impartial.