I spent Thursday and Friday at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for the 2017 murder of Justine Rusczczyk. Both days were devoted mostly to jury selection. Yesterday afternoon, however, Judge Kathryn Quaintance (“KQ,” as her colleagues on the bench refer to her) held a hearing on the Media Coalition’s objection to her order suppressing part of the bodycam footage that will be admitted into evidence early next week.
Let me repeat that for emphasis. Judge Quaintance has ordered the footage to be suppressed from public viewing even though it will be admitted into evidence. I don’t think the judge can do that. The hearing concluded yesterday’s proceedings. I will write about the hearing in a separate post. At this point, in the interest of brevity, I want to offer these 10 personal notes, observations, impressions.
1. Noor has two excellent attorneys representing him, Thomas Plunkett and my law school classmate Peter Wold. Plunkett has dominated jury selection so far. Peter took the baton from Plunkett to participate yesterday. You cannot dislike Peter. He is extremely personable.
2. In Minnesota state court, attorneys are afforded the opportunity to conduct voir dire themselves. Good attorneys use voir dire to preview their themes, try to plant a favorable interpretation of the case, and to develop a friendly relationship with jurors while doing so. This is not how they do things in federal court.
3. Plunkett has used voir dire effectively. His themes include job qualifications and training, testing and certification, handling conflict on the job and “escalation in the blink of an eye,” work with partners on the job and their reliance on each other. There was more, but you get the gist. If you are familiar with the facts of the case, I think you can see where the defense is going.
4. Noor refused to discuss the case when the police conducted their own internal investigation. I believe he was terminated from the force as a result. I cannot tell whether Noor is going to testify in his defense at trial. His partner Matthew Harrity’s testimony will be crucial. Defense counsel may withhold judgment on whether Noor should testify until they see how Harrity’s testimony works for them. However, the defense themes previewed in voir dire make me think that Noor will testify. He has to.
5. I made it into the courtroom yesterday, taking the last available public seat (I think). The overflow courtroom, which I resorted to on Thursday, is virtually empty. The video, however, is not great. There is no comparison with being inside the trial courtroom itself.
6. Inside the courtroom yesterday, I sat next to the empty chair reserved for the New York Times. It is supposed to be up for reallocation. Yesterday I wrote the court administrator with a copy to Chief Judge Bernhardson asking for the New York Times seat. We’ll see what happens.
7. Judge Quaintance is a decisive and knowledgeable judge. The prosecutors seem comfortable with her. Indeed, they may have timed the filing of the case against Noor in the hope that it would result in her presiding on the case. I was nevertheless astounded, and not in a good way, by her comments at the media hearing yesterday afternoon.
8. I lucked out in my seat placement. Next to the vacant New York Times seat was CBS Minnesota (WCCO TV) news reporter Reg Chapman. He is a huge man who is quick to laughter and an easy smile.
9. I bolted to lunch at a convenient spot in the office building on the skyway immediately across the street and pulled out my laptop to email Judge Bernhardson. (Under the court’s oppressive rules of conduct for the trial, all devices are banned from the vicinity of the courtroom. I had left mine stored at a law firm in the building across the street.) When Reggie ambled into the restaurant, I had already found a seat and started eating. I asked him to join me at my table. We shared notes about the case and the trial. Reggie observed that the Australian reporters attending the trial are appalled by the proceedings so far. I can only say I feel their pain.
10. Briefly talking with him about family issues, it didn’t take long for me to discover that Reggie is a big man with a big heart. He loves his colleagues at WCCO. On the air, he radiates charisma. You can see all this in the segment his colleagues devoted to him when he received an award for his work with veterans (of which Reggie is one himself). While he does not convey the impression that he is the least bit impressed with himself or his accomplishments, he is a most impressive man.
I will reserve the remainder of my notes on Judge Quaintance to my post on the media hearing. If you want to get to it now, Minnesota Public Radio has published the best account of the media hearing here. I inserted the note above to get to 10!