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Eric Nelson
Eric Nelson

2021 Attorneys of the Year: Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson consulted with his partners at Halberg Criminal Defense and his family before accepting appointment to defend former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin against charges that he caused the death of George Floyd.

The firm supported Nelson taking the case, recognizing the legal system’s obligation to provide every person with a right to trial.

“We’re not in the business of representing popular people,” Nelson says, but “it’s our ethical and constitutional duty.”

Nelson’s defense focused on whether Chauvin’s use of force was reasonable and whether drug use and underlying health conditions contributed to Floyd’s death.

Before the trial started, Nelson recognized the magnitude of the case and the world’s attention on Minnesota’s first televised trial, given the large volume of emails, social media posts and phone calls coming in. Despite the case’s “international notoriety,” Nelson tried to ignore distractions after pledging to try the Chauvin case in the courtroom and not in the media.

Nelson’s workload increased substantially when Chauvin’s case was severed from that of three other former officers a few weeks ahead of the trial. He worked 18- to-20-hour days from January through the trial’s April conclusion. He reviewed 50,000 pages of discovery and hundreds of hours of video. Finding experts willing to testify was challenging.

Nelson sought authorization to enlist a researcher from his firm. A new Halberg lawyer, Amy Voss, also assisted in court, but Nelson was the sole litigator facing more than a dozen prosecution lawyers with extensive resources. At one point, while selecting jurors, Nelson also had pending appeals in this case active in the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

People still recognize Nelson from the coverage and sometimes approach him to discuss his work.

“Even now, it’s definitely been a life-changing experience,” Nelson says.

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.

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