20 SUPERLAWYERS.COM A T TORNE YS SELECTED TO SUPER LA WYERS WERE CHOSEN IN ACCORDANCE WI TH THE PROCESS ON PAGE 30.
hundreds of times in their office: Nielsen
pretended to be the victim to show that
Ashley Fallis would have had to have been
standing on the dresser when Tom Fallis
shot her for the dimensions and bullet
trajectory to add up.
The jury came back with a “not guilty”
verdict in under four hours.
“We didn’t have to prove his innocence,
but we did,” Eytan says.
Civil rights attorney David Lane, of
Killmer Lane & Newman, says the Fallis
trial—particularly the thoroughness of their
investigation and creativity in forensics—is
a prime example of why he calls Eytan and
Nielsen two of the best criminal defense
lawyers he’s met. “Iris is a force of nature
when she gets unleashed on a case, and Dru
is a steadying hand,” he says.
Defense attorney Pamela Mackey of Haddon
Morgan and Foreman says there are a lot of
people in Denver with terrific legal skills, but
not everyone will accept her 2 a.m. phone call
or take care of their clients’ emotional needs
the way Eytan and Nielsen do.
“Dru is calm, meticulous and has
outstanding judgment,” Mackey says. “Iris
is passionate, wildly emotional, very very
intense, and can be over the top. She’s a
force to be reckoned with. You have to step
back when Iris is on a terror.
“They’re extremely different people who
complement each other’s strengths and
As an aside, Mackey suggests talking to
the women separately. “Dru can hardly get a
word in edgewise,” she says.
IN THE CONFERENCE ROOM, Eytan is
explaining how she became a criminal
Her parents, originally from Iraq,
immigrated to Israel and then Arizona
before she was born. As a first-generation
American, she felt isolated and embarrassed
that she did not fit that “American Girl-doll
kind of look or feel.” She wanted to help kids
who felt different and decided on a career
in child psychology—a natural fit in a family
where her father and brothers were doctors.
But when her parents learned she was
dating a non-Jewish boy at school, they cut
her off financially. So to help pay tuition and
expenses, she took a night job at the county
mental hospital that changed the course of
her life. She saw people being overmedicated
for the staff’s convenience. Eytan knew she
did not want to be a part of that system—she
wanted to change it—but she didn’t know how.
One day, she saw a patient being escorted by a
woman in a suit and asked who she was.
“She’s a lawyer.”
“What is she going to do?”
“She’s going to get her out of here.”
“That’s what you have to do? You have to
be a lawyer?”
During her second year at the University of
San Diego School of Law, she felt disheartened
when everyone started getting dressed up and
going off to interviews at business law firms.
“What are you people going to do all day?” she
thought. “You’re going to help more people
says with a laugh. (For the record: 25.)
“Mine will not be as colorful.”
Nielsen knew she wanted to be a lawyer in
junior high when family friend and attorney
Lisa Wayne took her to Denver County Court
for career day. During law school at the
University of Colorado, she got an internship
with the public defender’s office. When she
graduated, she became a public defender.
“See?” she says.
It was in the public defender system
that Eytan and Nielsen met. “We’d go
see live music together and bitch about
prosecutors,” Eytan says.
In 2001, after three years as a public
defender, Eytan was asked by Larry Pozner
of Reilly Pozner to come join his firm. “I did
not want to work for a law firm,” she says.
“It had nothing to do with who I was.” Yet
the offer was enticing: She’d have resources
at her disposal and still pursue the mental
health issues she was passionate about. So
she made the leap.
Around that time, she got involved with
the Colorado Lawyers Committee; she led
a team in suing the state mental hospital
three times to reduce the amount of time
mentally ill inmates had to wait for evaluation
or treatment. “This was a major piece of
litigation for us that protected the rights
of individuals in jail with mental health
problems, who were waiting as much as
six months for a mental health evaluation
or mental health treatment,” says Connie
Talmage, executive director of the committee.
“She was able to negotiate that number down
to 28 days and make sure she got the state to
agree to pay for an independent monitor who
But Eytan’s caseload was growing and she
wanted a lawyer who could share it.
By that time, Nielsen was a felony division
lead at the Denver trial office, managing and
training young lawyers. She had no plans to
leave. Indeed, both Nielsen and Eytan get
wistful looks when they talk about being
“It is the best job I’ve ever had,” Eytan says,
“and the best job Dru has ever had. To be
able to stand up for somebody that doesn’t
have anyone standing up for them at any
point in their life. Ever. And giving them a
voice no matter if what they did was the most
heinous thing. But you can say something
kind about them in front of a judge. It’s a
unique experience. And to get to do that on
a daily basis, 20 times a day? There can’t be
anything more fulfilling than that.”
“Yesterday,” Nielsen adds, “I did a hearing
Nielsen met as
“We’d go see live
and bitch about
Eytan used a scholarship to fund a
summer in Montgomery, Alabama, where she
volunteered on the landmark Wyatt v. Stickney
litigation, which sought to enforce access to
treatment for those with mental illness or
developmental disabilities. Later, she moved
to Denver to work for what is now Disability
Law Colorado, monitoring the state mental
hospital. The work felt important, but she
didn’t feel she was helping individual people.
“I realized all of my clients were in the criminal
justice system and I should be doing that. So I
Which is how she became a criminal
Eytan lets out a long breath and smacks the
conference table. “There you go,” she says.
“How many minutes was that?” Nielsen