Apr 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Chauvin trial prosecution worked with strategic communications firm

People gather at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to celebrate the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
People gather at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to celebrate the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

For most of the past year, a strategic communications firm with deep Washington ties has played an integral role for the prosecution in the State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin — operating without pay and so under-the-radar that most of its own staff had no idea.

The big picture: Finsbury Glover Hering — formerly known as the Glover Park Group — has been conducting media monitoring and analysis as part of legal team special prosecutor Neal Katyal's vision for a three-pronged "modern appeal/trial strategy."

  • It was Katyal who last June pitched Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on bringing in experts from the firm. Katyal had previously worked with them in civil cases.
  • His strategy held that in such a widely watched criminal case, with such major repercussions for the country, it would be essential for the prosecution to simultaneously consider the trial, an inevitable appeal and how the verdict would sit with Americans overall.

What they're saying: "We know in any high-stakes case like this there’s going to be an appeal," said Katyal, a partner at Hogan Lovells and former acting U.S. solicitor general with extensive appellate and Supreme Court experience. He and his team of seven lawyers also provided their services free of charge.

  • "You're thinking with one eye to the trial itself, and with the other, how’s it going to look on appeal," he said. "We needed to understand what people would be thinking about after the trial was over."

Katyal spoke with Axios on Wednesday, a day after the jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.

  • "We wanted to get a sense of what the public reaction would be if there were a conviction, an acquittal or a mixed verdict," he said. "Were there going to be any threats to public safety?"
  • "To win the trial is one thing. To win it in the eyes of the American people in the long term is a different thing," he said. "As a prosecutor, your goal is not 'to win a case' — it’s to do justice. And part of doing justice is not just winning the case but understanding how the verdict will be received."

How it worked: While prosecutors Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge and two outside attorneys, Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher, focused on the case and the trial, Katyal and a team of seven lawyers he assembled from his firm focused on legal motions and appeals.

  • The FGH team, meanwhile, monitored local, national and international media coverage as well as Twitter and other social media. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this monitoring and analysis was all conducted remotely.
  • It was their job to boil down for the prosecution the trends they could observe through publicly available information: Who were the key influencers? Were any errors in media coverage becoming part of the narrative? How was the public consuming what was happening in the courtroom and how did the jury appear to be responding?
  • In a statement to Axios, Ellison said FGH was "a completely integral and invaluable part of the team" and said the firm's advice was "essential to helping us understand the broader conversation around the case" and "the world around us."
  • FGH declined through a spokesman to comment for this story.

What's next: In addition to Chauvin's expected appeal, three other former officers who also were involved in Floyd's deadly arrest are set to go on trial jointly in August.

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