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2020 Attorneys of the Year: Andrew Irlbeck and Paul Applebaum

To Andrew Irlbeck and Paul Applebaum, the Chambers’ case was perfect for their pro bono and civil rights practices. The disabled and indigent man had languished in a county jail for more than a year and a half accused of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

“We took a look at it and thought this is a totally innocent person and vulnerable adult, who’s really the victim of sex abuse himself here,” he said. The attorneys hired a private investigator and used subpoenas and motions to obtain evidence, which they say the police had not done.

Applebaum said Irlbeck’s relentless motion practice led to winning discovery battles over key witnesses and documents. “I don’t mean to minimize what we did at trial, but by the time it got to trial, Andrew had discovered so much favorable evidence that it was almost like it was ours not to screw up,” he said.

The jury deliberated quickly and found Chambers not guilty on all counts in a March 2020 trial just before the national pandemic lockdown. His family wept and hugged, and even law enforcement shook their hands while some jurors smiled. “It was a very emotional moment,” they said.

Applebaum, who made the closing argument, jokingly said his primary role as co-counsel “was to make sure Andrew’s briefcase got from the car to the courtroom.” Both solo practitioners focus on civil rights issues and have worked together on more than 50 cases over the past decade.

The attorneys say the collaboration leads to better arguments and strategies at trials to seek justice for the less fortunate. Speaking of their partnership, Applebaum said they both are “suckers for the underdog.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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