Clay County judge reprimanded for failure to follow law, conduct violations, chronic tardiness
By: Emily Welker, INFORUM
MOORHEAD – A Clay County judge has been reprimanded by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards after its investigation revealed a string of failures to follow the law, chronic lateness to court hearings and other problems with the judge’s conduct.
In its findings, which go back over five years’ worth of Clay County District Court Judge Steven Cahill’s cases, the court found 19 examples of violations of judicial conduct.
They included one case in December 2009 in which Cahill helped a defendant avoid a firearms conviction after the defendant pleaded guilty to violating a restraining order.
Cahill did so because a firearms conviction could have cost the defendant his employment with the Minnesota National Guard, the board found, even though it was in violation of settled law, and over the prosecutor’s objections.
In another case, in May 2012, Cahill sentenced an immigrant defendant to 360 days on a felony burglary charge instead of the year and a day called for under sentencing guidelines.
The board found Cahill reduced the sentence duration to that of a gross misdemeanor because he was concerned the defendant would be deported for the felony conviction.
In several other cases, the board found, Cahill did not follow proper procedures for handling presentence investigations, holding court and awarding furloughs to inmates.
On Thanksgiving Day 2012, Cahill spontaneously decided to grant an inmate a 24-hour furlough, the board found.
Cahill went to the courthouse, personally typed up the furlough and delivered it to the jail himself, with no notice to the prosecutor or to jail officials.
The prisoner, who had not requested the furlough, assumed it was mistake and turned it down.
In another instance, Cahill authorized a prisoner to be released from jail for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings up to 10 hours a week – also without notifying prosecutors.
Cahill told the board he “wanted … to make a bold statement to get [the jail staff’s and the prosecutor’s] attention … It worked.”
The board also found Cahill exhibited a pattern of extensive tardiness to court and related matters over the period from August 2012 to January 2013.
Those events included arriving 40 minutes late for a master calendar session in Alexandria in August 2012, 40 minutes late for a sentencing or dispositional hearing in June 2013, and late for court 18 or more times in a single five-week period in fall 2012.
Electronic key card records showed Cahill was late 20 or more times during December 2013, which was almost every single court day that month.
The board pointed out Cahill was also late by 40 minutes for the sentencing hearing for 16-year-old Kullen Carney, a Moorhead student who pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide in the car crash that killed his friend, 17-year-old Austin Wagar.
The board said Cahill had also granted Carney a three-hour furlough to attend prom before sentencing, again without giving prosecutors a chance to be heard on the issue.
Carney’s parents were unhappy the judge arrived late and he admitted in court he forgot to put the sentencing on his calendar, having been on vacation.
Cahill offered to write an apology to the Carneys, the board said.
In its order, the board required Cahill to identify the causes of his misconduct and take steps to stop it, including finding a proposed mentor.
The board can accept or reject the mentor, who will submit progress reports to the board within the six months after Cahill’s reprimand.
Cahill could not be reached for comment.
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