Eric Nelson is a Minnesota lawyer who is the defense attorney for former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. The ex-officer is accused of murder in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. Chauvin’s trial began on March 29, 2021, after 12 days of jury selection.
The trial is being broadcasted live on TV and streamed online around the world. The 46-year-old Nelson, a partner at Halberg Criminal Defense in Minneapolis, is the lone attorney representing Chauvin in court. The case is being prosecuted by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was appointed as the special prosecutor in the case, and a team of several high-profile lawyers.
According to his firm’s website, Nelson has experience as a defense attorney in cases of “homicide, sex offenses, drug offenses, assaults and hundreds of DWI and alcohol-related traffic offenses.” Nelson is an expert on driving while intoxicated cases and contributes to the Minnesota DWI Deskbook for attorneys, according to his biography on the firm’s website.
Marsh Halberg, a founding partner at Nelson’s firm, told Fox News, “Inside that courtroom the rules of evidence are the same, the process is the same, this is no different in that respect than any other case. He is paced and professional and courteous and does not rattle. So he is a perfect fit for a case of this level of pressure.”
Here’s what you need to know about Eric Nelson, Derek Chauvin’s attorney:
1. Nelson Was Hired by the Minnesota Police & Peace Officers Association to Defend Chauvin
Nelson is one of 12 attorneys who work with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) to defend officers in criminal and civil trials, according to Fox News. Nelson was hired by the police union to represent Chauvin after the former Minneapolis Police officer’s first attorney, Tom Kelly, retired because of health issues, Fox News reported.
Brian Peters, the executive director of the MPPOA, told The Associated Press that Chauvin’s legal defense is being fully funded by the association despite being fired, because, “Chauvin earned the right to representation through his years as a member of his local union.”
According to the MPPOA website, “Eric joined the MPPOA LDF Attorney Panel in 2015. In that capacity he has successfully represented numerous members of the LDF in critical incidents and job-related investigations.”
Peters told The AP, “I saw a couple of reports of, ‘The MPPOA selected a DWI lawyer to represent Chauvin. To be on our panel of attorneys is not very easy. You are vetted very aggressively, we’ll just say. That’s why we have 12 of the best defense attorneys on our panel.”
2. Nelson Is a Minnesota Native Who Attended Eastern University & Hamline University School of Law
Nelson is a Minnesota native and graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis in 1992, according to his LinkedIn profile. Nelson then attended Eastern University, a private Christian university affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. Nelson graduated in 1996 with a degree in history.
After graduating from Eastern University, Nelson attended Hamline University School of Law, graduating in 2000, according to his LinkedIn profile. Nelson is admitted to practice law in Minnesota and Wisconsin state courts, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and in the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin federal court.
According to the MPPOA website, “Eric is a past Board Member of the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Additionally, Eric is a member of the Douglas Amdahl Inn of Court and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. From 2005-2013, Eric was recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyer, Rising Star. From 2014 through 2019, Eric has been recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyer. He has previously been named a ‘Top 40 Under 40’ by the National Trial Lawyers and a Top Ten Trial Attorney by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Eric is a current member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice (MSCJ).”
According to his Facebook profile, Nelson is married and has two children. He and his family live in Minneapolis.
3. Nelson Co-Founded Halberg Criminal Defense in 2005
Nelson was one of the founding partners of Halberg Criminal Defense in 2005, according to the law firm’s website. He has been a criminal defense attorney exclusively since becoming a lawyer, according to the firm.
His fellow founding partner, Marsh Halberg, told Fox News, Nelson, “doesn’t get rattled.” But Nelson said in court during a pretrial hearing in September that he has been receiving thousands of calls about the case and added, “There have been threats to myself, threats to my colleagues,” The Washington Post reported.
Michael Brandt, another Minnesota attorney, told The Post, “Sometimes you don’t see him coming. He’ll lull folks into a false sense of security, but the wheels are spinning, and he’s thinking three or four moves ahead.”
Another Minneapolis-based attorney with the same name, Eric C. Nelson, added a disclaimer to his website because of the high-profile nature of the Chauvin case. The other Nelson, a divorce attorney, wrote, “NOTE: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE ERIC NELSON WHO IS REPRESENTING DEREK CHAUVIN, THAT’S NOT ME. YOU WANT THIS GUY. (Welcome to Minnesota, where the name Eric Nelson is as common as walleye sandwiches. I wish my parents had named me Thor instead. Then I wouldn’t have this problem).”
4. Nelson Is the Only Attorney Representing Chauvin in Court, While the Prosecution Team Has 14 Lawyers, Including Several Who Will Appear in Court
Our first look this morning into the courtroom. Derek Chauvin sits with his attorney Eric Nelson. The former MPD officer has a yellow legal pad in front of him. We saw during jury selection that he was frequently taking notes @KSTP pic.twitter.com/sQhcQgNbnF
— Kirsten Swanson (@KirstenKSTP) March 29, 2021
Nelson will be the only lawyer sitting alongside Chauvin in court during the trial, while the prosecution team will have 14 attorneys, many of whom will be rotating into the court for different portions of the proceedings.
Earl Gray, who is representing another former officer, Thomas Lane, told The Washington Post, “He is outnumbered, but sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth,” adding that in court, “Only one lawyer can speak at a time.” Gray told Bloomberg Law, “He’s an excellent criminal defense attorney. He might not have a huge name yet, but he isn’t that old yet.”
But the police union said Nelson is not really working alone, according to The Associated Press. He has been working behind the scenes with the three other attorneys hired by the MPPOA to defend the other three former police officers facing charges in Floyd’s death. He also has been able to turn to the eight other attorneys in the MPPOA’s 12-lawyer rotation, the AP reported.
Peters, the association’s executive director, told the AP the association has also hired consultants who are experts in use-of-foce and medical issues, ” and Eric has been working very closely with those consultants … It may appear that it’s just Eric, but that is very far from the truth.”
Peters told The Post, “It may seem like he’s a one-man show, but it’s far from what you see on TV.”
5. Nelson Has Successfully Defended Homicide Suspects & Was the Lawyer for the Wife of a Former NFL Player in a High-Profile Hit-and-Run Case
NOW: Defense Attorney Eric Nelson begins for the defense..Nelson has practiced exclusively in the area of criminal defense for 20 years
— Chanley Shá Painter (@ChanleyCourtTV) March 29, 2021
According to Nelson’s bio on the Halberg Criminal Defense website, “Eric’s experience includes successfully representing clients charged with all levels of crimes through negotiation, jury trial and at the Court of Appeals. Eric’s experience includes homicide, sex offenses, drug offenses, assaults and hundreds of DWI and alcohol-related traffic offenses. Eric has also represented individuals faced with civil commitment as a sexually psychopathic personality/sexually dangerous person.”
The website continues, “Eric is a frequent lecturer on various criminal topics including driving under the influence of a controlled substance and the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Eric routinely speaks throughout Minnesota and serves as a judge in moot court and mock trial competitions.”
Nelson has been involved in high profile cases before. According to The Washington Post, Nelson represented Levi Acre-Kendall in 2015, successfully arguing self defense in a fatal stabbing. He also successfully defended a Carl Anderson, who was accused of shooting his unarmed neighbor in 2017. Nelson also represented Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings player Joe Senser, when she was accused in a fatal hit-and-run in 2011. She was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 41 months in prison, according to Fox News.
Bloomberg Law wrote, “In Minnesota since 2010, Nelson has defended about 880 criminal charges for clients. About 60 percent were traffic-related, and the largest number were defending those accused of driving while intoxicated, a serious criminal offense that can sometimes result in a jury trial, according to court data reviewed by Bloomberg Law.”