Thomas B. Kelley

Senior Counsel
Tel 303.376.2410
Fax 303.296.3956

Thomas B. Kelley has defended the rights and privileges of journalists and news organizations for more than 40 years. He has litigated libel, invasion of privacy, access, and newsgathering claims in 10 states, and regularly represents news organizations on appeals before state and federal courts. Tom has defended media organizations in 10 jury trials, resulting in three defense verdicts, four directed verdicts for the defense, one hung jury, and two plaintiff’s verdicts, both set aside post-trial.

Tom's regular clients include national and regional newspapers, television networks, television station owners, magazine publishers, cable news networks, and internet content providers. He has represented national media in protecting the public’s right to access records and proceedings in an array of high-profile cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing trials, Kobe Bryant rape prosecution, and JonBenét Ramsey murder investigation.

Tom has been described by Chambers USA as “one of the best trial lawyers in the country” and “a go-to guy in libel defense and media litigation in Colorado and nationally. His ease in the courtroom and excellent judgment [are] singled out by clients.”

Tom 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

  • Defended two McGraw-Hill textbook publishing companies in a copyright infringement action and prevailed in the District of Arizona and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the basis of lack of standing.
  • Defended NBCUniversal, Inc., in an action alleging defamation and unlawful hidden camera recording brought by Brokers’ Choice of America, and prevailed in the District of Colorado and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Defended Gawker Media, LLC, in a defamation action by former Major League Baseball pitcher Mitch Williams in New Jersey Superior Court and prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on grounds of failure to show actual malice.
  • Successfully defended The Durango Herald and its former arts and entertainment editor in the District of Arizona and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a tort action arising from an email the editor sent to the publicist of a religious-oriented musical group.
  • Successfully defended a filmmaker in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals after the plaintiff, a drywall contractor, challenged the district court’s award of summary judgment in a libel action arising from a documentary on the employment of migrant laborers. The court held that the film involved a matter of public concern and that the plaintiff had not offered sufficient proof of actual malice as required under Colorado law.
  • Represented The Denver Post in the trial and appeal of a seminal Colorado court case that established the rule that the actual malice standard applies in libel actions brought by private figures that involve matters of public concern.
  • Successfully represented Penthouse International, Inc., in an appeal that reversed a $26.5 million jury verdict and recognized First Amendment protection for satire.

Professional Activities

Litigation Counsel of America, Fellow Emeritus

Colorado Bar Association, past Governing Board member

Denver Bar Association

ABA Forum on Communications Law, past Chair; past Governing Board member; past Diversity Chair

Media Law Resource Center, Defense Counsel Section, past President

Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, past President and Board of Directors member

Sedona Conference Working Group on Protective Orders, Confidentiality and Public Access, 2004-2007

Colorado Supreme Court Committee on Pattern Civil Jury Instructions, 1994-2013

Recognition & Accomplishments

Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, Senior Statesman, First Amendment litigation

The Best Lawyers in America, 1991-2017; Denver First Amendment Lawyer of the Year, 2011 and 2015; Denver First Amendment Litigation Lawyer of the Year, 2012

Colorado Super Lawyers, civil rights, 2006-2017

Denver Business Journal’s Best of the Bar in Communications Law, 2006

Law Week Colorado Lawyer of the Year, 2013

Denver Bar Association Liberty Bell Award, 2000


“How Far Can You Go in Your Cross of the Plaintiff,” Communications Lawyer, Summer 2009

“The Libel Defendant’s Dilemma: Unpicking the Trial Theme,” Communications Lawyer, Spring 2006

“For Baby Boomers, An Icon of Media Law,” (review of Floyd Abrams’ Speaking Freely), Communications Lawyer, Spring 2005

“Practice Pointers for New (and Not-So-New) Media Lawyers,” Communications Lawyer, Fall 2005

“Libel by Implication,” Communications Lawyer, Spring 2002

Robert Sturm College of Law, University of Denver (J.D. 1972)

Amherst College (B.A. 1969)


U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Ninth, and 10th Circuits

U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado