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Arguments mount over proposed venue change in Castile shooting case

Contentious legal arguments between the defense and prosecution in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez continued to heat up this week in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

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Jeronimo Yanez

Contentious legal arguments between the defense and prosecution in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez continued to heat up this week in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The defense and prosecution filed additional memos with the court over a change of venue request for Yanez’s trial.

Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, was charged Nov. 16 with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for fatally shooting Philando Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., on July 6. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her then-4-year-old daughter were also in the car.

Yanez’s attorneys filed a writ of mandamus with the Court of Appeals last week asking it to reverse a trial judge’s refusal to grant a change of venue. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office penned a response a few days later opposing the request, which it called “frivolous.”

On Monday, defense attorneys Paul Engh, Earl Gray and Thomas Kelly filed a motion with the court asking that they be allowed to file a reply to the state’s response.

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“The State asserts our Writ of Mandamus is frivolous, thus brought in” the implication that defense attorneys violated a Minnesota court rule of professional conduct, the defense wrote. “To that suggestion, we take deep offense, and wish to respond accordingly.”

The Minnesota court rule of conduct that defense attorneys believe the prosecution has raised states, in part, “A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous …”

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ragatz filed a response Tuesday opposing the defense’s motion.

“First, as (the defense) recognizes, the rules do not allow for a reply to a response to a petition for mandamus,” Ragatz wrote. “…This Court should reject (the defense’s) request that it effectively rewrite the rules, because (the defense’s) alleged need to defend and clarify his petition is no different than in any other case.”

Ragatz called the defense’s Court of Appeals filing a “purely speculative attack” on Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III’s order denying a change of venue.

Defense attorneys argued before Leary, and now in the Court of Appeals, that Ramsey County’s jury pool is tainted by biased media coverage of the case. They asked that the trial be moved to Brainerd, Duluth, Hastings or St. Cloud.

Prosecutors argued that the defense has not shown that Ramsey County residents can’t be impartial. Change of venue can be revisited during jury selection, prosecutors argued.

Leary sided with the prosecution in his order earlier this month, making similar statements.

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The Court of Appeals is aware of the filings but has not reviewed the matter, said Kyle Christopherson, a spokesman with the State Court Administrator’s Office. Such filings typically are reviewed and decided by the court behind closed doors, although attorneys can also request oral arguments, he said. None have been requested in the Yanez filing.

There is no deadline for a decision on the filing, but the court is “conscientious” of Yanez’s May 30 trial date, Christopherson said.

Related Topics: POLICECRIME
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