Why did Judge Cahill survive the primary vote?

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Seventh District Judge Steven Cahill survived a primary election challenge by three attorneys. No surprise there.

The three challengers split a majority of the votes. Kenneth Kohler got the nod to run against Cahill in November.

It wasn’t surprising because in Minnesota election of judges is designed to all but guarantee the re-election of incumbents.

Only judges get to run with the word “Incumbent” under their name. Further, district court judges run on the ballot in one of 10 judicial districts. While local voters may know a little about a judge seated in their own county, they may have few if any dealings with a judge from another part of the district.

Almost everyone reading this article resides in the 7th Judicial District. The 10 counties in the district include Clay County (think Moorhead) where Cahill hears most of his cases, but also Becker, Ottertail, Wadena, Douglas, Todd, Stearns, Morrison, Benton and Mille Lacs.

Judges move across county lines as needed for reasons ranging from accommodating another judge’s vacation to the local judge having a conflict of interest.

Back in March, Cahill received a reprimand from the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards. The Board nailed him on 22 different counts.

If one reads the Public Reprimand, it becomes clear that Cahill was driving many people crazy in the court system. Some of the complaints, such as “discourtesy to court staff” may not warrant removal from office by themselves, but taken in total, the complaints against Cahill are deserving of voters’ attention.

Seven complaints against him are because he failed to follow the law.

An immigrant pled guilty to burglary in the third degree. Cahill sentenced him to 360 days in jail instead of a year and a day as called for in the sentencing guidelines. He gave him the shorter sentence in hopes of preventing his deportation, even though Minnesota courts do not allow possible deportation to be considered in sentencing.

Cahill said he was aware of the precedents, but believed the Court of Appeals made a mistake.

In another case, he stayed a conviction of violating an order for protection because he feared that the accompanying firearms prohibition would adversely affect the party’s employment with the Minnesota National Guard.

A stay of adjudication is only allowed if the prosecutor abuses his discretion, which was not the case. The Court of Appeals reversed Cahill’s ruling.

In another case, he gave a confidential pre-sentence investigation report to the attorneys for both parties, again violating state law.

Other incidents were somewhat bizarre. On Thanksgiving Day 2012, while driving by the Clay County courthouse, Cahill decided to grant a 24-hour furlough to a prisoner who had not requested a furlough. Cahill delivered the notice to the jail without notifying the prosecutor or anyone else, and the defendant declined to use it, thinking it was a mistake.

Cahill also issued an order to allow another prisoner to be released from jail to attend AA up to 10 hours per week, but did so without notifying the prosecutor or any other party.

Without giving the county an opportunity to be heard, he issued a temporary restraining order allowing a person without the required permits, to conduct motorcycle races on a moto-cross track.

In another case, a 16-year-old was charged with vehicular homicide, and was released to his parents subject to conditions that included a 9 p.m. curfew. Without giving notice to the prosecutor, Cahill granted the 16-year-old a three-hour furlough so he could go to the prom.

Cahill was also cited for chronic tardiness. While attorneys often get paid by the hour, their clients don’t appreciate paying them just to sit around waiting for the judge.

Cahill was 40 minutes late for a 9 a.m. hearing in Alexandria, was cited for being late for court 18 times between Sept. 12 and Oct. 17, 2012, 20 times in October 2013, 18 times in November 2013 and virtually every single court day in December, 2013.

In another case, the issues involved were submitted to Cahill on Sept. 5, 2013. The decision was due in 90 days. On March 7, a court clerk asked Cahill about the case and he said he would take care of the case in the next few days, but did not issue an order until March 28, 115 days after the deadline.

Just before his run of habitual tardiness, on March 11, 2013, he started court before any court staff was present.

Along with the reprimand, Cahill was ordered to find himself a mentor and present to the board a plan for addressing the causes of his misconduct by June 21. By Oct. 21, Cahill must set a meeting date with Board of Judicial Standards representatives to monitor his progress. It will be interesting to see if any report is forthcoming before Election Day. One would think voters would have a right to know.

Meanwhile, 13,626 primary voters think Cahill deserves another term.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected].

  • tmac

    Well said.
    I do think we need more information about judges running for reelection.
    Luckily, I read the article about his behavior and did not vote for him but I am guessing that by the amount of votes he received, not too many people did see any of that information.

  • newpolitiq7

    This is very helpful, thank you. Just this past week, a local conservative radio commentator even admitted to not knowing about the judicial race, but went ahead and voted for the incumbent anyway (the presumption being “he must not be that bad”). This information will help us cast more intelligent ballots in the general election.