Lee Levine

Senior Counsel

Tel 202.508.1110
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Lee Levine has represented media clients in libel, invasion of privacy, reporter's privilege, access, copyright, and related First Amendment cases for more than 35 years. In the U.S. Supreme Court, he has argued for the media defendants in Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton and Bartnicki v. Vopper. Lee also has litigated in the courts of more than 20 states and the District of Columbia, and has appeared in most federal appeals courts and in the highest courts of 10 states.

Lee served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center from 1989 to 2016. He is the lead author of the treatise Newsgathering and the Law, now in its fourth edition; he co-authored the casebook Media and the Law, now in its second edition; and most recently, together with Professor Stephen Wermiel, he co-authored The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan, published by the American Bar Association Press to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that landmark decision.

Chambers USA has reported that Lee is considered "the greatest First Amendment attorney in the United States" and has ranked him nationally as a "star individual" and, most recently, a "senior statesman," in First Amendment litigation. Likewise, The Legal 500 US has written that Lee's "reputation is unparalleled. He is in a class of his own." And, in Best Lawyers, Lee has been described as "the dean of First Amendment Law."

Lee 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.

Judicial Clerkship

Hon. Irving R. Kaufman, then-Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Representative Experience

  • Argued on behalf of the media defendants in Bartnicki v. Vopper, the landmark Supreme Court case arising out of the radio broadcast of a tape recording of a cell phone conversation between two teachers’ union officials. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims under the federal wiretapping act and reaffirmed the principle that the press cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information about a matter of public concern absent a governmental interest of the highest order, at least where it played no role in the source’s unlawful acquisition of the information.
  • Argued on behalf of the newspaper defendant in Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton before the U.S. Supreme Court in a defamation action arising from a news report alleging that a judicial candidate acted unethically. The Court held that, for the candidate to prevail, he had to demonstrate that the newspaper did more than merely depart from professional standards in reporting the story. The Court also reaffirmed the principle that appellate courts must independently review the record in defamation actions instituted by public officials or public figures.
  • Argued on behalf of the estate of the late Chris Kyle, a sniper for the Navy SEALs, and secured the appellate reversal of a $1.85 million jury verdict in favor of former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura for unjust enrichment and defamation. The court held that there is no valid claim for unjust enrichment in the context of an alleged defamation and remanded Ventura’s defamation claim for a new trial.
  • Successfully defended The New York Times in a defamation action brought by a prominent bio-defense expert named by the FBI as a “person of interest” in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings. The scientist claimed the newspaper falsely implicated him in connection with the mailings. The trial court granted the newspaper’s motion for summary judgment and the Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiff was a limited-purpose public figure who failed to establish actual malice.
  • Represented and argued on behalf of The New York Times and other news organizations that sought to attend pretrial depositions in a watershed civil antitrust case. The District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the trial court’s order requiring that the public and press be admitted to the depositions.

Professional Activities

ABA Forum on Communications Law, past Chair

Media Law Resource Center, Defense Counsel Section, past President

District of Columbia Bar, Publications Committee, past Chair; Media Law Committee, past Chair

Practising Law Institute, Communications Law in the Digital Age, Co-Chair

First Amendment Salon, Co-Founder and Co-Chair

Georgetown University Law Center, Adjunct Professor, 1989-2016

Southwestern Law School, Adjunct Professor, Media Litigation, 2009-2010

Paul M. Herbert Law Center, Louisiana State University, Adjunct Faculty, Comparative Media Law, Lyon, France, 2009-2010

Bureau of National Affairs, Media Law Reporter Advisory Board

Charles Fahy American Inn of Court, past Master of the Bench

Fred Friendly Seminars, Inc., past Board of Directors member

Recognition & Accomplishments

Chambers USA, Star Individual and Senior Statesmen, First Amendment litigation (nationwide) 2017-2020; Media & Entertainment, (Washington, D.C.), 2017-2020

The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment Law, Litigation - First Amendment, Media Law, 2000-2021; "Lawyer of the Year," First Amendment Law (Washington, D.C.), 2011, 2016 and Media Law (Washington, D.C.), 2013

Washington, D.C., Super Lawyers, media & advertising, 2007-2017

Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rating


The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan, American Bar Association, 2014

Newsgathering and the Law, Lexis Law Publishing, 4th ed., 2011

Media and the Law, Lexis Nexis, 2d ed., 2014

“The Court and the Cannonball: An Inside Look,” 65 American University Law Review 101, 2016

“The Landmark That Wasn’t: A First Amendment Play In Five Acts,” 88 University of Washington Law Review 1, 2013

“The First Amendment and National Security,” National Security Law in the News: A Guide for Journalists, Scholars and Policymakers, ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security and Medill School of Journalism, 2012

“Handcuffing the Press: First Amendment Limitations on the Reach of Criminal Statutes as Applied to the Media,” 55 New York Law School Law Review 101, 2011

“Implied Libel, Defamatory Meaning, and State of Mind: The Promise of New York Times v. Sullivan,” 78 Iowa Law Review 237, 1993

“Branzburg Revisited: Confidential Sources and First Amendment Values,” 57 George Washington Law Review 13, 1988

“Judge and Jury in the Law of Defamation,” 35 American University Law Review 1, 1985

“The Editorial Function and the Gertz Public Figure Standard,” 87 Yale Law Journal 1723, 1978

“18th Annual Silha Lecture,” Newsgathering on Trial: The Supreme Court and the Press in the 21st Century, University of Minnesota’s Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law

Yale Law School (J.D. 1979)
Managing Editor, Yale Law Journal

University of Pennsylvania (B.A., M.A. 1976, summa cum laude)
Phi Beta Kappa

District of Columbia


U.S. Supreme Court

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

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

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois