Matthew E. Kelley

Tel 202.508.1112
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Matthew E. Kelley advises and represents media companies, journalists, filmmakers, bloggers, and other content creators in a wide range of legal issues. His experience in state and federal courts across the country includes defending clients against defamation, privacy, and copyright claims; litigating Freedom of Information Act and other access matters; challenging subpoenas for privileged information; and other issues implicating First Amendment rights. Matt also counsels clients on legal issues involving newsgathering and intellectual property.

Before beginning his legal career, Matt was an award-winning investigative reporter for the Associated Press and USA Today. As a journalist, he covered a variety of issues and institutions, including Congress, the Pentagon, and national politics.

Matt previously was with the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.

Representative Experience

Matt worked on legal teams that:

  • Successfully defended producers of a documentary about gun violence from defamation claims by a gun-rights advocacy group and two of its members who were interviewed for the film. A federal trial court dismissed the complaint in Virginia Citizens Defense League v. Couric, holding that the challenged scene was neither false nor defamatory.
  • In Broker’s Choice of America, Inc. v. NBCUniversal, Inc., successfully represented the network  in federal court and at the 10th Circuit in a defamation action involving a hidden-camera report on the plaintiffs’ sales seminars for insurance agents. The 10th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the undercover recordings of the seminar showed that the gist of the report—that the plaintiffs taught insurance agents to use scare tactics to sell potentially inappropriate financial products to the elderly—was substantially true.
  • Working pro bono, persuaded law enforcement authorities in North Dakota to release cameras and equipment seized from visual journalists who were arrested on misdemeanor charges while covering the clearing of protest camps at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Successfully sued the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to obtain documents sought by a scholar researching tribal governments’ laws regarding freedom of expression and access to information.  Matt filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., after the Bureau initially ignored the researcher’s Freedom of Information Act request and then claimed it did not have any such documents. The BIA ultimately produced 11,000 pages of records, including nearly 700 constitutional documents for more than three-quarters of the 567 federally recognized tribal governments, and agreed to pay a significant portion of the legal fees incurred in bringing the action.
  • Represented Twitter in opposing a petition for pre-lawsuit discovery of an anonymous Twitter user brought by nutritional supplement and multilevel marketing firm Herbalife, which alleged that the user’s tweets were defamatory. The court held that Herbalife did not have a viable defamation claim because the tweets were “hyperbolic and dramatic” expressions of opinion and based on truthful disclosed facts.
  • In Leach v. James, successfully represented ESPN before Texas trial and appellate courts in a high-profile suit filed by former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach, currently the head football coach at Washington State. The defamation, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy case against ESPN arose from its reporting about allegations that Leach had mistreated a student-athlete and claims that ESPN was responsible for Leach’s subsequent termination from Texas Tech. After the trial court granted summary judgment to ESPN on all claims and Leach appealed the dismissal of his tortious inference claim, the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.
  • Successfully defended a CBS television station in Jacobson v. CBS Broadcasting Inc. before the trial and appellate courts against defamation and invasion of privacy claims asserted by a former reporter for a competing station, arising from a CBS report that raised questions about the reporter’s presence at the home of a central figure in a criminal investigation. The appellate court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for CBS on the grounds that the reporter was a public figure who had failed to establish actual malice and that she had no reasonable expectation of privacy while in her source’s backyard.
  • Defended former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and in a defamation action filed by a former insurance executive arising out of a piece of commentary by Gov. Spitzer regarding a series of criminal prosecutions he had initiated while attorney general. In Gilman v. Spitzer, the district court granted the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, and dismissal of the action was affirmed on appeal.
  • Successfully defended Communications Daily against defamation and misappropriation of trade secrets claims over a report that raised questions about the plaintiffs’ telecommunications license preparation services. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit, Smartcomm, LLC v. Warren Communications News, Inc., prior to deposition discovery in the case.

Professional Activities

American University School of Communication, Adjunct Instructor of Media Law

ABA Forum on Communications Law

Native American Journalists Association

UNITY: Journalists of Color, past Secretary


Co-author, "Sixth Circuit Sides with The New York Times in Defamation Suit," Ballard Spahr alert, July 19, 2019

Co-author, "Recent Developments in Media, Privacy, Defamation, and Advertising Law," ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal, Spring 2019

"Results Removed: Fighting Deindexing Abuse," The Current: The Journal of PLI Press, Summer 2017

"Internet Law," ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal, Winter 2017

2016 update to “Anonymous Online Speech,” Communications Law in the Digital Age, 2015

“Using the Freedom of Information Act,” Native American Journalists Association, March 2014

“A Little Birdie Told Me, ‘You’re a Crook’: Libel in the Twittersphere and Beyond,” Communications Lawyer, March 2014

“Case Brief: Milner v. Department of Navy, National Security Digest,” 80 George Washington Law Review Arguendo 1, 2012

George Washington University Law School (J.D. 2012, with high honors)
Articles Editor, The George Washington Law Review
Order of the Coif

Kent State University (B.A. Journalism 1991, summa cum laude)
Editor, Daily Kent Stater


District of Columbia