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Bruce Sanford began his career reporting for The Wall Street Journal, but he soon decided he was on the wrong side of the action. “It taught me that I wanted to be a participant in business and law, and not just report on it,” says the Baker & Hostetler partner. Laughing, he adds, “And the professional detachment of a journalist was aggravating.” But Sanford, 61, has put his early training to good use — as a communications lawyer, defending more than 1,000 First Amendment and intellectual property cases. He has represented Bill Clinton, Barbara Bush, and John Grisham, as well as media giants such as the New York Times Co., the ABC Co., and the E.W. Scripps Co. He also serves as general counsel to the Society of Professional Journalists. “He gives thoughtful advice that’s premised on trench warfare experience,” says Jerald Fritz, general counsel of Allbritton Communications Co., which owns television stations in seven markets. “He’s been a reporter, and he knows what my problems are as a client.” Fritz also praises Sanford as “an exquisite writer with a flair for literary metaphor that captures the essence of a legal argument” and calls him “an uncompromising zealot for the principles of free speech.” Currently, Sanford is defending a small Illinois newspaper, the Kane County Chronicle, in a high-profile case brought by the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Chief Justice Robert Thomas sued the paper for libel and won a $7 million verdict, which was later reduced to $4 million. In June, Sanford, who was hired after the trial, filed a federal civil rights suit, arguing that the paper cannot get a fair hearing on its appeal because the plaintiff is also head of the state judiciary. It’s not Sanford’s first experience with a litigious judge. He and co-counsel from his firm’s Cleveland office represented The New York Times when it was sued by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Francis Sweeney. The judge sought $15 million in damages over a story that examined his role in the prosecution of Sam Sheppard, the Cleveland doctor accused of killing his wife in 1954 whose story inspired the TV series “The Fugitive.” In 2003, a jury found that, although the Times story contained an error, the paper had shown no “actual malice” — which, as a public official, Sweeney needed to prove. Sanford also represented the paper in another case that attracted a lot of attention. In 1994, Dan Moldea sued the Times for libel based on a review of his book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football. The review said the book contained “sloppy journalism.” A trial judge dismissed the suit on the basis that a book review is unverifiable opinion and thus not actionable, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit revived the case. That 2-1 decision, says Sanford, “became a cause c�l�bre. It seemed to put opinion and fair comment into a wholly different place.” He filed a 10-page petition for rehearing. In a remarkable turn of events, Judges Harry Edwards and Patricia Wald reversed themselves, calling their initial decision a mistake. “It was a great victory not only in the case but for the industry,” says George Freeman, assistant general counsel at The New York Times. Another notable case came in 1999, when Sanford represented Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. Gov. Pedro Rossell� had pulled all government-funded advertising from the paper because he was unhappy with its news coverage. The paper sued the governor and members of his administration for First Amendment violations. When the 1st Circuit held that public officials did not have qualified immunity in such circumstances and could be held personally liable, “that sent everyone screaming to the settlement table,” remembers Sanford. He calls the decision an important 1st Circuit precedent. As for his most famous clients, Sanford represented President Clinton in the 1996 negotiation and publication of his first book, Between Hope and History — a transaction that Sanford describes as “very complicated.” And he represented former first lady Barbara Bush when she was sued for libel by former CIA agent Philip Agee in 1995. In her memoir, Bush had written that some in government blamed Agee for disclosing information that may have resulted in the 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. Sanford got the case removed to federal court. It was ultimately resolved without monetary payment or apology when Bush agreed to change the text in the paperback edition. Sanford earned his law degree in 1970 from New York University School of Law. He joined Baker & Hosteler, attracted by its well-established media practice, at what was then the firm’s lone office in Cleveland. He moved to the Washington office in 1980. After all these years, Sanford hasn’t left journalism behind entirely. He’s written three books, including the well-reviewed Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How Our Growing Hatred of the Media Threatens Free Speech for All of Us in 1999. “I love to write,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to combine journalism and law.”

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