Michael D. Sullivan

Partner

sullivanm@ballardspahr.com
Tel 202.508.1116
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Michael D. Sullivan has represented journalists, newspapers, syndicated columnists, production companies, networks, and news sources in high-stakes libel, privacy, entertainment, and copyright cases for more than 30 years.

Among other landmark cases, he represented columnist Jack Anderson in the successful defense of a libel suit by the self-described Liberty Lobby. Among his notable media trials, Mr. Sullivan served as lead trial counsel for a Minneapolis television station, obtaining a defense verdict after a six-week jury trial in a libel suit filed by a widow who claimed she had been falsely accused of murdering her husband.

Best Lawyers has reported that “Michael Sullivan is probably the best jury-trial lawyer for a media defendant bar none.” That view was echoed by The Legal 500, which has written that “clients consider him one of the best jury trial lawyers in the country.” Chambers USA has reported that clients have called Mr. Sullivan “a great, great lawyer.” Jack Anderson’s memoir describes him as “the soft-spoken Sullivan, a ferocious defender of the First Amendment.”

Mr. Sullivan has taught media law as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Maryland College of Journalism.

Mr. Sullivan was one of the founding attorneys of the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in 1997, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.

Representative Experience

  • Led a team to victories in the trial and appellate courts on behalf of International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts around the globe, in a long-running case brought by Serbian businessman Philip Zepter. Zepter claimed that he was defamed in a Crisis Group report analyzing the political turmoil in Serbia following the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic and the assassination of the country’s new prime minister. Following extensive discovery and numerous judicial proceedings spanning multiple countries on two continents, the district court granted summary judgment for Crisis Group, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed. In a unanimous opinion, the D.C. Circuit held that Zepter, the billionaire supporter and friend of the late prime minister, was a limited-purpose public figure whose claims could not proceed given that his attempts to show clear and convincing evidence of actual malice failed.
  • Served as lead trial and appellate counsel for the Virgin Islands Daily News in a defamation suit by a local judge. Following a two-week jury trial, the trial court entered judgment in the newspaper’s favor. That decision was affirmed by the Virgin Islands Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which issued a significant ruling detailing the requirements public officials must meet when they claim to be defamed by alleged implications.
  • Led a team in successfully defending the Center for Public Integrity in a libel suit brought by prominent Russian “oligarchs” arising from a report linking them to criminal activities during Russia’s turbulent transition to a capitalist economy.
  • Served as lead trial counsel for award-winning director John Sayles and Miramax Films in a copyright infringement action arising from the highly acclaimed motion picture Passion Fish. After a one-week jury trial, the court entered judgment as a matter of law for the defendants, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Professional Activities

Media Law Resource Center, Trial Practice Committee, past Co-Chair

Recognition & Accomplishments

Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, First Amendment Litigation, nationwide; Media & Entertainment Law, Washington, D.C.

The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment, First Amendment Litigation, and Media Law, 2007-2018 Washington, D.C., Media Law Lawyer of the Year, 2012

Super Lawyers, Washington, D.C., Media & Advertising, 2008-2017

Publications

Co-author, “Survey of Maryland Privacy and Related Claims Against the Media,” in Annual Media Privacy & Related Law Survey

Co-author, “Developments in West Virginia Insurance Bad Faith Law,” 98 West Virginia Law Review 267, 1995

Board Memberships

Guides Trust Foundation

Georgetown University Law Center (J.D. 1980, magna cum laude)

The Ohio State University (B.A. 1977, summa cum laude)

District of Columbia

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland