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, Michael 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.
- 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.
Media Law Resource Center, Trial Practice Committee, past Co-Chair
Recognition & Accomplishments
Chambers USA, First Amendment Litigation, nationwide; Media & Entertainment Law, Washington, D.C., 2017-2020
The Legal 500, Media and Entertainment: Litigation, 2020
The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment Law, Litigation - First Amendment, Media Law, 2007-2021; "Lawyer of the Year," Media Law (Washington, D.C.), 2012 and Litigation - First Amendment (Washington, D.C.), 2019
Super Lawyers, Washington, D.C., Media & Advertising, 2008-2017
Board Memberships & Community Service
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
Georgetown University Law Center (J.D., magna cum laude, 1980)
The Ohio State University (B.A., summa cum laude, 1977)
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