February 15, 2011

Post-Season Play?

The Super Bowl is history, and pitchers and catchers have headed south for spring training, but for those of us keeping an eye on media and First Amendment issues, football is not yet out of the picture. At least not the off-field contest now being waged by Dan Snyder, principal owner of the Washington Redskins, against the Washington City Paper and related entities.

In his Complaint, Snyder alleges that the paper "has engaged in an ongoing campaign against [him] to smear his business and personal reputation through the publication of false and malicious articles ... ."  Snyder's "ability to turn the other cheek" allegedly was exhausted by a November 18, 2010, cover story, which he alleges provided "an 'encyclopedic tour' of the 'heinous deeds' and 'various perfidies of Dan Snyder'."

Snyder's complaint--which includes as an exhibit a copy of a November 24, 2010, letter sent by David P. Donovan, Redskins' General Counsel, to individuals associated with the paper's ownership group--apparently refers to the piece by columnist Dave McKenna, "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder." An online copy of that piece is dated November 19, 2010, and now includes a link to a letter from Amy Austin, publisher of the paper, concerning the legal action and a defense fund.

The paper is represented by Seth Berlin at the prominent media and First Amendment law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz. The paper's ownership group is represented by First Amendment powerhouse Floyd Abrams from Cahill Gordon & Reindell.

Now that Snyder has kicked off, stay tuned for details about the return by the defense. Given the First Amendment values here, I expect we will see a Statue of Liberty play at some point, and a strong blitz if Snyder regains possession.

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