2019 Defending the Supoenaed Journalist – Washington DC

Legal Work

Subpoena Defense Initiative

Defending the Subpoenaed Journalist is a legal seminar covering essentials of Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia shield law protections — or lack thereof — and developments in the law as it relates to journalists and their confidential sources and unpublished materials. Hear from leading media lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine, in-house counsel from the Washington Post and a journalist who will share his first-hand experience being targeted for his confidential sources. 


Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019  

12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 

Admission: Free
Lunch is provided & CLE Pending


Davis Wright Tremaine, 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC  20006

*Click here to register from a mobile device.



The training session is designed for lawyers at all levels interested in representing journalists who face subpoenas for their confidential sources or unpublished materials, a fundamental threat to press freedom. Training will cover: the typical subpoenas that journalists receive in state and federal court proceedings, developments in the law, and strategies for successfully representing journalists.

FAC’s Subpoena Defense Initiative

With the explosion in small and nonprofit media outlets, as well as a steep rise in the number of freelance journalists, there is a significant and growing need for qualified counsel to defend subpoenas served on journalists who lack access to qualified counsel. Many subpoenas can be handled swiftly, with a phone call or an email. Others require more extended negotiations, and some may require a motion to quash and a related court appearance. Thus, they present an ideal opportunity for lawyers to engage in work for the public good on a time- and subject-matter-limited basis. They may also present good opportunities for junior lawyers to get hands-on, courtroom experience.

The SDI program goals are two-fold:

  • To train interested attorneys with detailed, specific knowledge of the procedural and substantive challenges of defending journalists who are subpoenaed in both the criminal and civil contexts.
  • To build a roster of qualified attorneys FAC can call on to defend subpoenaed journalists if and when the need arises.

Press Freedom Defense Fund

The Subpoena Defense Initiative is supported by the Press Freedom Defense Fund, a project of First Look Media Works, Inc., publisher of The Intercept. It provides essential legal support for journalists, news organizations and whistleblowers who are targeted by powerful figures because they have tried to being light information that is in the public interest and necessary for a functioning democracy. 


Representing content publishers — U.S. and foreign; digital, print and broadcast; and for profit and nonprofit — Laura Handman draws upon her three decades of experience helping her clients bring to light newsworthy information and then defending them from complaint through appeal. Along the way, Laura has established many of the key precedents that have strengthened the protection for content — winning the first U.S. decisions to refuse to enforce foreign libel judgments, leading to passage of the SPEECH ACT; establishing the standard in New York for libel by implication; establishing a heightened standard before, the government can access records of a customer’s expressive content purchases on Amazon, establishing that internet rankings are opinion, and securing for satire protection from libel and right of publicity claims. Laura is on the Executive Committees of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Counsel for Court Excellence, and on the Board of Overseers of the Columbia Journalism Review.

James A. McLaughlinJames A. McLaughlin is deputy general counsel and director of government affairs at The Washington Post, where he is principally responsible for newsroom-related legal issues and litigation. His work at The Post includes prepublication review of content, defense of actual or threatened libel claims, newsgathering advice, First Amendment issues, subpoenas, and FOIA. Since 2015, he has also served as the Post’s director of government affairs, overseeing its participation in legislative, regulatory, and industry matters. Before coming to The Post in 2006, he worked at two Washington, D.C. law firms (Covington & Burling and Zuckerman Spaeder) and, in 2003-04, served as the McCormick Tribune Legal Fellow at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A graduate of Amherst College (1995) and Yale Law School (1998), where he was senior editor of the Yale Law Journal, he clerked for Judge Anthony J. Scirica of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1998-99. He serves on several boards of directors and teaches media law as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

James RisenJames Risen is Director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, which is dedicated to supporting news organizations, journalists, and whistleblowers in legal fights in which a substantial public interest, freedom of the press, or related human or civil right is at stake. Risen was himself a target of the U.S. government’s crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers. He waged a seven-year battle, risking jail, after the Bush and Obama administrations sought to force him to testify and reveal his confidential sources in a leak investigation. As a New York Times reporter, Risen won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his stories about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. He currently also serves as The Intercept’s  Senior National Security Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C.

David Bralow, Legal Director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, brings a wealth of experience in media law including First Amendment expertise, national security issues, FOIA prosecutions and appeals, defamation, and privacy. Prior to joining First Look Media, Bralow was of counsel in the Media, Communication and Entertainment Practice Group of Pepper Hamilton LLP. He also served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Digital First Media, a multi-platform media company with the second largest newspaper circulation in the United States; and as Assistant General Counsel for 13 years at the Tribune Company, where he provided legal advice to their newspapers, websites and television stations.