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Tom Burke defends speech and content across all mediums – representing internet companies; networks; studios; book, magazine and news publishers; and authors, journalists, photographers, documentary filmmakers, and environmental groups. With nearly 30 years of trial and appellate experience in California’s state and federal courts, Tom’s practice covers the full spectrum of content liability issues including First Amendment matters and the defense of libel, privacy, right of publicity, copyright, trademark, and false advertising claims. A veteran newsroom lawyer, Tom regularly provides prepublication counseling and vets books and scripts. He defends journalists facing subpoenas for unpublished information and confidential sources. He also regularly litigates high-profile state and federal public records lawsuits. Tom is the author of “Anti-SLAPP Litigation” (The Rutter Group 2013-present) and since 2002, teaches media law at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Planet Aid v. The Center for Investigative Reporting - Representing Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and its reporters in a libel lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco that challenges nearly 80 statements and 20 publications following an 18-month investigation into the alleged misuse of US and foreign funding to farmers in Malawi, Africa.
Public records & access lawsuits
Litigating public records lawsuits to make public information about: the implementation of President Trump’s Muslim travel ban; Veteran’s Administration whistleblower complaints; the CIA’s activities during El Salvador’s civil war; ICE enforcement activities in California and Washington State; FBI surveillance of an Muslim American community in Illinois; and police misconduct records throughout California following S.B. 1421.
Defended Yelp Inc. in a closely-watched California Supreme Court case (Hassell v. Bird, 5 Cal. 5th 522 (2018)) that upheld Yelp’s due process and free speech rights under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In a 4-3 decision, reversing the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court held that Yelp was not required to comply with a trial court order to remove a defamatory user review of a law firm published on Yelp. On January 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Libel, Privacy and Other Constitutional Matters
Public Records Litigation
Access to Public Proceedings
Journalist’s Privilege and Source Protection
Admitted to Practice
U.S. Supreme Court, 2006
J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law, 1989, magna cum laude
B.S., Broadcast Journalism, Arizona State University, 1984, magna cum laude
Memberships & Affiliations
- Chair, DWT Pro Bono and Public Service Committee, 2018-present
- Lecturer, J255, Law & Ethics, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, 2002-present
- Member, National Board of Advisors, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University, 2013
- Governing Board of the ABA Forum on Communications Law, 2008-2011
- Appointed Member, Commission for Impartial Courts, California Task Force on Judicial Campaign Conduct, 2007-2009
- Co-chair, Freedom of Information Committee, Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, 2006-2008
- Member, Internet Law, Membership and Prepublication Review Committees, Media Law Resource Center, 2002-present
- Legal Advisor, First Amendment Coalition, 1990-present
- Legal Advisor, Student Press Law Center, 2008-present
- Member, San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, 2009-present
- Named as one of "America's Leading Lawyers for Business" in First Amendment Litigation (Nationwide), 2018-2019; Media & Entertainment: First Amendment Litigation (California) by Chambers USA, 2003-2019
- Named "Lawyer of the Year" in San Francisco Litigation - First Amendment by Best Lawyers in America, 2015
- Received the "Willard J. Wright Award" for Outstanding Community Service, 2014
- Named as one of "500 Leading Lawyers in America" by Lawdragon, 2013
- Named as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" in First Amendment Law by Best Lawyers, 2004-2006; named in First Amendment Law and Media Law, 2007-present
- Selected to "Northern California Super Lawyers," Thomson Reuters, 2004-2019
- James Madison Freedom of Information Award for Legal Counsel, Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, 2002
- Extern Law Clerk, Hon. Marilyn Hall Patel, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Fall 1988
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