Success Story

Ballard Spahr Lawyers Help Media Gain Access to Mar-a-Lago Search Documents

August 29, 2022




These are some of the terms being used to describe the court-ordered unsealing of the probable cause affidavit from the U.S. Department of Justice’s search of former President Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, on Aug. 8, 2022. Attorneys from Ballard Spahr’s Media and Entertainment Law Group played the central courtroom role in making it happen.

Following the search and seizure at the former president’s residence, Ballard Spahr lawyers surged into action on behalf of a coalition of media organizations—The Washington Post, CNN, NBC News, Scripps, and the Associated Press—to draft a motion for access to the affidavit and to file it in federal court in Florida.

Things really got interesting when Judge Bruce E. Reinhart set an in-person hearing with just 36 hours’ notice. Charles D. Tobin, leader of Ballard Spahr’s Media and Entertainment Law Group, quickly rerouted from a previously scheduled work trip to be in the courtroom in West Palm Beach on Aug. 18. In the interim, lawyers for other media organizations seeking access asked that Mr. Tobin present a unified argument on behalf of all, which he did.

On August 25, Judge Reinhart ruled.

“Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former President’s residence, the Government has not yet shown that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify sealing,” the judge wrote. “I therefore reject the Government’s argument that the present record justifies keeping the entire Affidavit under seal.”

Following court-approved redactions, the affidavit was made available to the media and public. The resulting onslaught of coverage worldwide contains details about the classified national security materials the investigators sought, as well as about previous recovery of such materials from Mr. Trump’s residence.

One in-house lawyer for a coalition client thanked Mr. Tobin and his team for its “amazing work,” including “the all-nighters, great arguments, the last minute flights, the corralling of media partners represented by other lawyers.”

“This drill was an important reminder of the important role the Ballard Media and Entertainment Law Group plays in making sure journalists—and the public—receive the information they need, day-to-day and at historic junctures like this one,” Mr. Tobin said.

In addition to Mr. Tobin, the legal team included Elizabeth Seidlin-Bernstein, Emmy Parsons, Jacob M. Schriner-Briggs, Isabella Salomão Nascimento, and Matthew E. Kelley.

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