Plymouth’s Peter Cahill re-elected as Chief Judge in Hennepin County

Peter Cahill

Plymouth resident Peter Cahill has been re-elected as Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. The Honorable Cahill’s second and final two-year term began July 1.

Cahill, 55, has been a Plymouth resident for the past 25 years where he and his wife raised four children. He graduated law school at the University of Minnesota and began his career as a criminal defense lawyer in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office.

He went into private practice for 11 years, including running a solo practice based in Wayzata for four years. Cahill went back to public service in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and eventually served for six years as Chief Deputy County Attorney.

In 2007, Cahill was elected to judge in the Fourth Judicial District, which serves Hennepin County. He was elected to Chief Judge in 2012 and two terms is the maximum for the position.

Cahill is one of 62 judges serving Hennepin County and the Honorable Ivy Bernhardson will serve as Assistant Chief Judge with Cahill.

Cahill shared thoughts about his re-election and some of his initiatives as Chief Judge with Sun Sailor.

Question: What are some of your duties as Chief Judge?

Peter Cahill: It’s pretty much management and administrative duties of judges and staff. Judge assignment is one thing I do.

But I don’t really have supervisory authority. One thing people tend to think is that the Chief Judge is kind of a mini court of appeals. But all the other judges in Hennepin County are all independent. So I don’t have the ability to review their decisions, but I can assign them to certain courts and calendars. I also oversee the budget.

Q: What drew you to public service? 

Cahill: Part of it was that private practice is very much a grind. And I happened to run into a friend in the public sector who had some openings and they recruited me to come back.

In the private sector, one of our contracts was for city prosecution for St. Louis Park. And I enjoyed that. I like public service more than having a private law firm.

Q: What are some challenges that you face as Chief Judge?

Cahill: For a while it was the budget crisis that hit the state. We were looking for ways to create efficiencies, like if people retire, we don’t have to fill vacancies.

Also, as chief, it gives me time to work on the eCourt Minnesota initiative. That’s converting us to a paperless court – all our files are now electronic so judges and staff can access them from anywhere.

Trying to convert the whole culture from paper to paperless is a huge challenge. And we’re about half way through. We’re still working on tools for judges to be able to use the paperless process on the bench. All this will probably be finished in about two more years.

Q: Can you share a few words about your Assistant Chief Judge, Ivy Bernhardson?

Cahill: She has a complimentary background to mine. I was heavily criminal and she has more of a civil and corporate background.

She’s been a great compliment to that.  And I hope in the next few years when I’m done that she runs for chief.

Q: What’s your favorite part of being a judge? 

Cahill: Presiding over jury trials. We have fabulous lawyers trying cases and to be a part of that is just tremendous. It’s challenging, but it’s my favorite part.

I don’t get to do that much as chief. A trial can range from two days to three weeks, so it’s hard with the other parts of the job.

Q: What are some future goals of yours? 

Cahill: I’m still hoping that being a district court judge is the last job I have. Being Chief Judge, if you ask most prior Chief Judges, is about service. It’s not like you become chief because you want to go on to bigger and better things. It’s something you do as service to the bench and service to the branch.

So I’d like to step out of leadership and go back to doing some criminal trials and letting the next wave of bench leaders do their thing.

And I’ll hope that through the next 11 years the voters will keep me in so I can retire in the job I love.

Q: Final thoughts? 

Cahill: Being chief is a great privilege. Sometimes, like any job, it has its moments that make it a tough day. But it’s a privilege to serve the bench and my community.

Contact Brian Rosemeyer at

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