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When Thomas Curley, former publisher of USA Today, took over as CEO of the Associated Press last year, he wanted a strong general counsel at his side. The news organization employed a decentralized staff of in-house lawyers, and Curley wanted to centralize the department along with several others to better compete in a saturated industry. He met with John Keitt Jr., a partner at Dewey Ballantine at the time, who had done work for the AP for two decades. They hit it off, and Keitt invited the CEO to dinner and asked to be named the first general counsel of the 150-year-old institution. The next day, they inked a deal. From his mentor William Rogers, Keitt’s appreciation for the AP and its mission flourished, he said. “The AP plays a central role in the news,” he said, in explaining the importance of the institution and the news media in general in a democratic society. As the AP’s first general counsel and head of global business operations, he was now endowed with the responsibility to preserve this mission. MEDIA ACCESS Keitt said that when he took over as general counsel in July 2003, he saw three challenges: access rights for the press, improving corporate governance and protecting the AP’s intellectual property rights. The AP’s legal battles for access to information represent its toughest challenge these days, he said. “We’re finding significant barriers raised almost on a daily basis,” said Keitt. “They are becoming more consistent and prevalent.” The war on terrorism and other publicized events has led to restrictions on privileges long enjoyed by journalists. On the heels of the “juror No. 4″ incident during the trial of Tyco’s ex-CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, in which two newspapers released the name of a juror apparently holding out against conviction, Southern District of New York Judge Richard Owen prohibited reporters from releasing names of jurors in the well-publicized Frank Quattrone trial in April. Reporters currently face subpoenas under the threat of imprisonment for declining to turn over sources used to reveal the name of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in July 2003. Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “The AP is often in the lead and clearly participates when asked,” said Keitt of many media-related court battles. It must “keep a constant vigil,” on restraints, he said. Last month the Pentagon released new documents related to President Bush’s service at the Texas Air National Guard it found in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the AP. “The AP feels that it’s part of its mission,” said Keitt of the expensive lawsuit surrounding the president’s military records. As an associate at Rogers & Wells (which merged with the British firm Clifford Chance in 2000), Keitt began doing work for the AP in 1983, two years after he started at the firm that enjoyed a strong history in media law. William Rogers, a named partner of the firm, represented the New York Times and the AP in hallmark victories involving libel in the 1960s. Working under Rogers’ wing, Keitt’s appreciation for the AP and its role flourished. Keitt takes this mission seriously. “We do it because there is a clear sense that the public needs to know what’s going on,” he said. Other media outlets, particularly smaller ones that cannot afford large legal tussles, rely on the organization. The AP, a cooperative of news organizations, is owned by and operates on behalf of its members. With 242 bureaus worldwide and 3,700 employees and more news content than anyone else, it is a leader among news organizations, Keitt said. “All of them view the AP as a very good vehicle” to fight the battle, he said. “I would be surprised if we are not on the speed dial on every news company’s general counsel.” One of Keitt’s seven in-house lawyers, David Tomlin, worked as a newsman for the AP for 30 years before joining the legal department, said Keitt. A former bureau chief, Tomlin has the trust of the reporters and editors, said Keitt, making him an ideal liaison to journalists. The AP taps the firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz for its media-related work. David Schulz and Robert Penchina, both former attorneys at Rogers & Wells, had close working relationships with Keitt, who said their legal skills and commitment to the AP persuaded him to bring them aboard. He said he considers Schulz the best first amendment lawyer in the nation. Schulz represented several media companies in a successful effort to invalidate Southern District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum’s decision to close jury selection to reporters in the Martha Stewart trial. Keitt praised Penchina for his “precise, clear guidance,” which he said he counted on while both men worked at Rogers & Wells. LAW AND BUSINESS Keitt heads the AP’s legal and international business departments, a combination that he says brings benefits. “The model I’ve always used as a lawyer is to know the business and become a counselor,” he said. Not a publicly traded company, the AP operates as a New York nonprofit entity, with similarities to a multinational corporation. Keitt said he wanted a corporate governance structure meeting modern standards to ensure a smoother operation of the organization’s far-flung enterprises. He borrowed ideas from competitors, multinational companies and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, in coming up with new standards that he said should be completed by the end of this year. At Rogers & Wells, Keitt helped the AP expand overseas and apply nascent computer and satellite technology to its business. He helped develop AP Television News, a technology-department that records and distributes video clips to news outlets across the world and established subsidiaries internationally to manage the AP’s growing global business. “I was fascinated by how technology was changing the way companies do business,” said Keitt. He worked with large banks as well as start-ups and led Dewey Ballantine’s technology group. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY A year after joining the AP, Keitt brought on Srinandan Kasi as deputy general counsel. Kasi worked with Keitt at Rogers & Wells and Dewey Ballantine. A chemist, he holds four patents, and his expertise in intellectual property plays a large role in the AP’s fortunes. The AP produces about 20 million words of content plus photographs and video clips daily. This intellectual property — the main asset of the AP — is constantly being usurped, said Keitt. “With all the content we put out … we’re finding that particularly in the Internet,” people have used the AP’s content without payment or acknowledgement. A publication may copy and paste an AP article it found on the Internet on to its own Web site, removing AP’s name, he said. The AP has two lawyers in its Washington, D.C., office to oversee intellectual property misappropriations and relies on bureau heads to report problems, said Keitt. Keitt expresses excitement about the organization as he shows off its the new state-of-the-art newsroom, which he helped design. The video division, which provides clips to broadcasters, also represents a project on which he worked, as an outside counsel 10 years ago. In selecting a law firm to handle the AP’s transactional work, Keitt looked at several in New York before settling on Debevoise & Plimpton. As part of the process, he invited Debevoise partners who would manage the AP account to a meeting to assess their commitment to the enterprise. “They really were genuinely excited about representing the AP,” said Keitt. Not as excited as Keitt, of course.

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