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MAY 24, 2017 – In recognition of the firm’s decades-long commitment to supporting journalists, defending free expression, and furthering the public’s right to know, the media and First Amendment practice group at Davis Wright Tremaine has been honored with a Freedom of the Press award by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The awards were presented last night at the organization’s annual gala dinner in New York, attended by executives from dozens of the country’s leading media organizations. Lawyers from six Davis Wright Tremaine offices across the country were in attendance.
David Boardman, chair of the Reporters Committee steering committee, presented the award to the team, praising their “unceasing dedication to the First Amendment” and “unparalleled excellence in the courtroom.” He noted they had “represented hundreds of clients across the media spectrum, from The Los Angeles Times to the New York Post, from Microsoft to Penguin Random House, from ProPublica to Penthouse, from CNN to Netflix.”
The group’s comprehensive efforts on behalf of journalists include “defending us from libel claims, protecting our access to information, shielding us from subpoenas, fighting against restraints on our reporting, and spearheading legislation that amplifies our freedoms,” said Boardman. He added: “We often take those freedoms for granted, but we might not have them at all today except for the lawyers of Davis Wright Tremaine.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the practice group, New York partner Victor Kovner paid tribute to the Reporters Committee as both “an invaluable ally” and “an indispensable partner for any firm practicing in this field.” The Committee’s “ability to intervene, to lead the fight in so many battles on so many fronts and assemble amicus briefs on behalf of press interests across the nation plays a critical role in our practice, for which we are all deeply grateful,” Kovner said.
The Freedom of the Press Awards—recognizing career achievements in protecting press freedom—were also given to: Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post; Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor of the Associated Press; and Paul Steiger, executive chairman of ProPublica.
Davis Wright Tremaine’s media and First Amendment lawyers have defended the cause of free speech and newsgathering through decades of landmark actions. Among the many examples:
- The firm blazed a trail for cameras in the courtroom over the past 20 years by prevailing on Judge Lance Ito to allow live coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial.
- Scores of authors, investigative reporters, screenplay writers, and publishers and producers, have been defended from libel and right-of-publicity claims. Recent examples:
- The firm defended Rolling Stone magazine in multiple suits arising from the story “A Rape on Campus”, winning dismissal of one and a far lower damage award than what the plaintiff sought in a second.
- The firm won dismissal of claims lodged against two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, arising from their respective investigative books, “The Nazis Next Door” and “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.”
- The firm won dismissal of a “libel-in-fiction” complaint lodged against a writer of the film “What Maisie Knew” by the writer’s ex-girlfriend, who claimed one of the characters was based on her.
- The firm was the first to persuade U.S. courts that British libel judgments were “repugnant” to the First Amendment and should not be enforced. The U.K. Parliament was ultimately pressured to reform English defamation law, slowing down “libel tourism” by powerful plaintiffs who had flocked to British courts to take advantage of their less speech-protective laws.
- Court records, police records, and myriad public documents of all kinds have been released to the media, the public, researchers, and activists due to Davis Wright Tremaine’s efforts. Recent examples:
- On behalf of the Wall Street Journal, the firm successfully challenged an injunction that, for over 30 years, restricted the release of data about Medicare reimbursement of individual physicians. Access to the documents resulted in front-page stories around the country on questionable payment patterns in this $77 billion program.
- On behalf of the Washington Post, the firm won a motion to unseal records related to Trump University that had been obtained in discovery in two class actions filed by former students.
- In multiple cases on behalf of the Los Angeles Times, the firm has won the release of critical information related to police incidents and misconduct.
- The firm has secured important protection for content creators of all kinds, upholding copyrights as well as the right to fair use. For example:
- The firm represented a class of songwriters and music publishers against Grokster, obtaining a unanimous decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that peer-to-peer file-sharing services could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement.
- The firm won a precedent-setting decision on behalf of Associated Press, granting summary judgment on its copyright claim against an electronic media monitoring service that “scraped” daily excerpts from news articles and delivered them to subscribers.
- The firm successfully defended against a copyright-infringement claim arising from a “South Park” parody of the Internet viral video “What What in the Butt.” The 7th Circuit found the parody protected by fair use and instructed that the fair-use defense may be decided without discovery in appropriate cases, enabling content creators to avoid long and burdensome litigation.
- The firm obtained a ruling that David Adjmi’s original play, “3C,” was protected by fair use after he was accused of copyright infringement by the producers of the 1970s television series “Three’s Company.” The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund presented the late firm partner Ed Davis with its Defender Award for his work on the case.
- The firm has fought against prior restraint. For example:
- The firm defeated an effort by Facebook to force removal of sealed documents about Mark Zuckerberg from the website of a magazine about Harvard graduates.
- The firm defeated an effort by the union representing Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies to restrain the Los Angeles Times from publishing confidential information regarding hiring practices in the Sheriff’s department.
- Journalists have been protected from subpoenas and reporter’s privilege has been upheld.
- Just two hours after he was sworn into office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a subpoena to a journalist—a reporter in Oregon who had covered last year’s armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Davis Wright Tremaine succeeded in quashing the subpoena.
- Defendants in a class action filed by the widows of men killed in a West Virginia mine explosion subpoenaed the author of a book about that explosion, seeking to compel the production of her research notes and communications with sources. Our team won a decision denying the mine company’s motion to compel.
Davis Wright Tremaine’s record of defending free speech and privacy protections continues to expand as the firm responds to new and ongoing threats to First Amendment rights—not just on behalf of traditional media representatives, but also for tech companies, private citizens, and others who create or host content. For example:
- The firm has sued the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of Microsoft, challenging a section of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows courts to bar Internet service providers from notifying customers about government interception of emails and other private data.
The firm successfully argued on behalf of Amazon.com that the government was required to satisfy a higher standard before it could access records of what books, movies, and music customers bought, for use in federal and state prosecutions and in state tax collections.
The firm won dismissal of a libel suit filed against TripAdvisor by the owners of the hotel that placed no. 1 in the site’s ranking of the “Dirtiest Hotels” in America. The court found that the ranking, based on data compiled from user reviews, is subjective opinion.
The firm defeated an effort to force Yelp to take down a critical review and won dismissal of a libel action against Yelp arising out of that review.
The firm won a nationwide temporary restraining order, on First Amendment grounds, against the U.S. Justice Department, which sought to prohibit the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project from informally assisting people facing deportation.
The team has spearheaded an ongoing litigation campaign with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, challenging policies on college campuses that discriminate based on viewpoint or otherwise run afoul of the First Amendment.
The team is defending two research/investment companies that were sued for defamation after reporting on security vulnerabilities in pacemakers and defibrillators produced by a major medical device company.
In cases around the country, the team is successfully upholding the right of citizens and the media to record law enforcement activity in public places.
The team is defending Greenpeace in high-profile litigation initiated by Canadian forestry giant Resolute Forest Products, which has lodged claims of defamation and racketeering, with a threat of treble damages, in response to a Greenpeace campaign against it.
The firm secured dismissal of a putative class action alleging that the lawyer-rating website Avvo violated the plaintiff’s right of publicity by publishing a profile page without his authorization, on which ads for competitors and the website’s services could appear. A federal judge held that the First Amendment fully protected profiles as non-commercial speech.
In many of the cases mentioned, the Reporters Committee filed amicus briefs in support of Davis Wright Tremaine clients. Said Boardman: “We have been comrades-in-arms in a war we know will never—in fact, can never—end.”
About Davis Wright Tremaine
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is a national law firm with nine offices and over 550 lawyers representing clients based throughout the United States and around the world.
Davis Wright Tremaine is widely acknowledged as among the country’s top media law practices. The firm was recently named a Law360 “Practice Group of the Year” in media and entertainment. Best Lawyers named the firm 2017 “Law Firm of the Year” in media law and copyright law. In the most recent Chambers guide to the best U.S. business lawyers, more Davis Wright Tremaine lawyers were ranked at the top for First Amendment Litigation than any other firm in the country. Publications such as The Hollywood Reporter and The Daily Journal regularly laud Davis Wright Tremaine media lawyers as among the nation’s best.
The group publishes regular updates at medialawmonitor.com. Interviews with the firm’s First Amendment attorneys can be found at https://vimeo.com/channels/firstamendment/videos.
For more information, visit www.dwt.com.