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New to the Bench: Judge Peter Cahill
Michael Goodwin
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
by: Michael Goodwin

Section: Spotlight/Profiles

Judge Peter Cahill

Michael Goodwin, Contributing Author. Mr. Goodwin is a law clerk in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. He is currently a second-year student at Hamline University School of Law, where he is involved in law review and with the Minnesota Justice Foundation.

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Were it not for a bad case of mononucleosis, Peter Cahill might be pulling teeth and filling cavities today.

Cahill was thinking about becoming a dentist when he came down with mono as a senior in high school.  Unable to work or go to school, Cahill tagged along with his father, a prosecutor, and watched him work.  He remembers being fascinated by the trial process.

Cahill, a native of the Milwaukee area, eventually recovered his health and went on to college at the University of Minnesota.  But the seed for a legal career had been planted, and after college he decided to go on to the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 1984.

Now, after more than two decades as a practicing attorney, Cahill is settling into a new role on the bench as a district court judge in Hennepin County.  He was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said in a recent interview in his chambers at the Hennepin County Government Center.  “You have to figure out what’s fair, and what the law says.  You just have to find the right answer.  How can it get better than that?”

The job also gives Cahill a chance to return to the courtroom, where his legal career began and where he has always felt most at home.  Cahill joined the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in 1997 as an assistant county attorney in the Violent Crime Division.  He later served as managing attorney in the Juvenile Prosecution Division from 1999 to 2000 and then as chief deputy county attorney from 2000 to 2006.  At the time of his appointment, he was serving as managing attorney in the office’s Special Litigation Division, a position he had held since January of 2007.

Prior to his tenure in the county attorney’s office, Cahill was in private practice, focusing on criminal defense.  He was an attorney in the law firm of Colich and Wieland from 1987 to 1988, a partner in the firm of Colich and Cahill from 1988 to 1993, and a solo practitioner in Wayzata from 1993 to 1997.  He started his legal career in 1984 with the Fourth Judicial District Public Defender’s Office.  Cahill also founded The Blue Pages, Inc., a specialized directory of lawyers in Minnesota, in 1996, and he served as its chief executive officer until 1997.

Cahill said he knew early on in his career that the courtroom was where he wanted to be.  Though he enjoyed being involved in policy decisions during his service with the county attorney’s office, he gets the most satisfaction from being in court.

“I love the challenge [of being in court],” he said.  “It’s the pure practice of law. There is no purer practice than being in the courtroom.  It’s where all the action is.”

It’s a challenge that he still enjoys as a judge, although there are obvious differences between being an advocate and being neutral.

“You’ve got to make the right call.  You’ve got to ask what the law is, and what is fair and just.  It’s not an easy answer sometimes.  You have to step back and listen carefully, and make the best decision.”

Cahill said he is looking forward to learning more about areas of the law in which he has less familiarity, such as family law.  As an experienced trial lawyer, however, he said he has not encountered many surprises in the course of his new job.  He said that the county’s excellent support staff has eased his transition from lawyer to judge, and that he has also received a lot of good advice from his colleagues on the bench.  Cahill said the best advice he has received is to remember that he is the one in charge in the courtroom.

“If you need to take time to think, take it,” he recalls being told by another judge. “Don’t feel pressured to make snap judgments.  Take the time to do a good job.”

Cahill has some advice of his own for attorneys appearing before him in court: be on time, be prepared, and, above all, be respectful.

“I’m big on courtroom decorum,” he said, noting that respect extends not only to the judge, but also to the opposing counsel, the parties involved, and the audience.  “The public deserves a court that is respectful to everyone and is fair and just.”

Throughout his career, Cahill has been involved in service to the profession and to the community.  He has been an active member of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, serving on the Criminal Law Committee and the Technology Committee.  He is also a member of an advisory task force for CriMNet, a state-level program that works with state and local agencies to make criminal justice information available to officials in law enforcement, the courts, and corrections, and he is part of a group studying possible changes to Hennepin County’s Drug Court.  He has been a frequent CLE speaker as well as a guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota Law School, University of St. Thomas Law School, and William Mitchell College of Law.

“The contributions he will make as a district court judge will extend far beyond the courtroom itself,” Governor Pawlenty said in announcing Cahill’s appointment to the bench.

Cahill, who lives in Plymouth, has served as a member of the City of Plymouth’s Charter Commission, as a coach for the Wayzata High School Mock Trial Team, and as a volunteer judge for the Minnesota State Bar Association High School Mock Trial Tournament.  Cahill and his wife, Jane, have also been involved in the activities of their four children, the youngest of whom is currently a senior at Wayzata High School.  Cahill spends his spare time doing genealogy research, archiving old family photos, and perfecting his barbecuing techniques. 

His main focus, however, is on just becoming a good judge.

“It is such an honor to have this appointment,” he said.  “I want to return the favor by doing a good job.” 






1984    J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

1981    B.A., University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts



2007    Judge, Hennepin County District Court

1997-2007    Assistant Attorney, Chief Deputy Attorney, Managing Attorney; Hennepin County Attorney’s Office

1993-1997    Solo Practitioner

1988-1993    Partner, Colich and Cahill

1987-1988    Associate Attorney, Colich and Wieland

1984-1987    Assistant Public Defender, 4­th District

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