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Admitted to Practice

  • New York, 1962
  • U.S. District Court Southern District of New York, 1966
  • U.S. Supreme Court, 1975
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, 1995
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit, 1997
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit, 2003

Victor A. Kovner

Victor Kovner represents national and regional broadcast and print media clients in all aspects of communications law, in addition to his work in intellectual property and commercial litigation. He advises clients in cases of alleged defamation, privacy, copyright, press access, and reporter’s privilege and other First Amendment issues.

Victor has represented a wide range of clients in the media and the arts, including newspapers, magazines, book publishers, motion picture companies, documentary film producers, museums, and billboard companies.

Representative Experience

Pre-publication/pre-broadcast review for various media entities

Counsels a wide number of media entities in pre-publication or pre-broadcast issues for various print publications and for motion picture companies. (Ongoing)

Documentary counsel

Provides pre-broadcast review and strategy to groundbreaking documentary and docudrama filmmakers and producers including: Hit the Ground Running Films, Andrew Jarecki, Robert Kenner, Elise Pearlstein, Laura Bickford, Abby Disney and Laura Poitras. Film projects have included documentaries such as, "Citizen Four" (recipient of the 2011 Academy Award for documentaries),"Capturing the Friedmans" (an Academy Award Nominee), "Catfish," "Food, Inc.," "Last Stop on the Way to the Oasis," and "Sexy Baby" and docudramas, such as "All Good Things," and "Fur." Also the six-part documentary series for HBO "The Jinx" (recipient of the Emmy Award). As the trial of Robert Durst for murder proceeds in California, there are reporters’ privilege issues pending. (Ongoing)

Cassirer v. Kingdom of Spain

Action under Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to recover Pissarro painting looted by Nazis from plaintiff's grandmother in 1939 and now held by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld en banc the district courts' denial of defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that they are subject to suit under the immunity exception for claims involving property taken in violation of international law. The pending claim is now sub judice in the 9th Circuit. After multiple appeals, local counsel is handling the trial in the District Court. (Ongoing)

American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Metropolitan Transit Authority; Vaguely Qualified Productions LLC V. MTA; Samuelson V. MTA

Provides First Amendment counsel to the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority regarding the nature of the forum for advertising in the subways and on the buses, and successfully defended litigation related thereto.

Times Square Alliance

Provides First Amendment counsel to the Business Improvement District covering Times Square, focusing on developing limited areas therein for certain commercial activities and to facilitate pedestrian traffic in other areas.

The Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation

Serves as trustee of a large foundation devoted to community based wildlife conservation throughout the world.

Peck v. Peck

Successfully obtained dismissal of a non-media defamation claim. Appeal pending. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2018)

Brookford, LLC v New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal

Argued in the New York Court of Appeals from a unanimous adverse decision below. (N.Y. Ongoing)

Haberman v. City of Long Beach, et al.

Successfully appealed to New York Court of Appeals to overturn dismissal of litigation over denial of building permit, where zoning board of appeals disavowed litigation agreement to extend zoning variance. In issue of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that counsel for zoning board could bind the board by signing stipulation, and that no additional public hearing was required. (Ongoing)

Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. The City of New York

Major First Amendment challenge to New York City's prohibition against outdoor advertising along its arterial highways.

Stop the Madrassa v. Almontaser

Successfully defended former principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy (Brooklyn, N.Y.) in defamation suit brought by opponents of the school. Pre-discovery motion to dismiss granted and affirmed on appeal.

Third Church of Christ, Scientist, of New York City v. City of New York and Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster

Obtained a permanent injunction on behalf of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist against the New York City Department of Buildings' revocation of permits to renovate a church in connection with a lease of space to caterer. The case was brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). This result allowed the church to save its historic building and continue in operation. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, unanimously affirmed the District Court's issuance of a permanent injunction.

Morisseau v. DLA Piper U.S. LLP, Proskauer Rose LLP, and ALM Media Inc.

Represented DLA Piper U.S., LLP, in New York state court, successfully defeating the petitioner's motion for pre-action discovery in aid of framing a complaint for libel arising from the publication of an allegedly false and defamatory article about the petitioner, who was a party to a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Zelnik v. Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) et al.

Successful appeal sustaining a summary judgment dismissing a First Amendment retaliation claim that plaintiff was not afforded professor emeritus status in retaliation for speech related to a matter of public concern after the District Court determined that plaintiff failed to demonstrate any material adverse change in the terms and conditions of his employment as a consequence of his speech.

Nieves v. HBO

Defense of claims arising out of comments made in course of HBO series "Family Bonds," a documentary series about a real-life family of bail bondsmen.

Verizon Directories Corp. v. Yellow Book USA, Inc.

Represented Yellow Book USA in a false advertising and product disparagement action brought by Verizon Directories Corp. concerning Yellow Book's advertisements and sales practices. Secured dismissal of product disparagement claim and successfully settled false advertising claim.

Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences v. City of New York

Represented leading art museums and other cultural institutions across the country as amici curiae in the First Amendment litigation over the City of New York’s unsuccessful efforts to punish the Brooklyn Museum of Art for a controversial exhibition. (2d Cir. 2000) Read more

Professional & Community Activities

  • Board Member and Former Chair, The Fund for Modern Courts, 1975-present
  • Board Member and Former Chair, Legal Affairs Committee, Association of Magazine Media, 2004-present
  • Co-founder, Media Law Resource Center
  • Advisory Board, Media Law Reporter, 1990-present
  • Former Chair, Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Communications and Media Law, Association of the Bar of the City of New York
  • Founder, Lankenau Kovner & Outten, which merged with Davis Wright Tremaine in 1998
  • Member and Former Chair, New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, 1976-1990
  • Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, 1990-1991

Professional Recognition

  • Accepted "Freedom of the Press Award" given by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on behalf of Davis Wright Tremaine, 2017
  • Named a "Lifetime Achievement Honoree," of the Lawyers Who Lead by Example list by New York Law Journal, 2014
  • Corporation Counsel Award for Distinguished Service, New York City Law Department
  • Named one of "America's Leading Lawyers for Business" in First Amendment Litigation (Nationwide) by Chambers USA, 2007-2016; Received "Senior Statesman" ranking, 2016-2017
  • Named one of "America's Leading Lawyers for Business" in Media & Entertainment: First Amendment Litigation (New York) by Chambers USA, 2003-2014, 2016-2018; Received "Band 1" ranking, 2012, 2014, 2016; Received "Senior Statesman" ranking, 2017-2018. Cited as "an undeniably superb lawyer” and a “tenacious litigator who knows his area backward and is never stuck for an idea."
  • Named one of the "Best Lawyers in America" in First Amendment Law by Best Lawyers, 1995-present
Sources describe him as "a force of nature," adding that "he is sharp as can be, and a delight to be around." -Chambers USA 2018