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Steven D. Zansberg

For more than a quarter century, Steve has represented media companies, online publishers, and individuals in defending claims based on content, fighting subpoenas, and seeking access to government information and proceedings. He has represented the national news media in connection with coverage of such events as the Aurora theater shooting case and the Oklahoma City bombing trials. He secured access to public records related to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey and the mass shooting at Columbine High School.

 

Steve also litigates copyright and trademark matters. Steve has also defended dozens of defamation and invasion of privacy cases in both state and federal courts across the nation. He has successfully briefed and argued appeals to the Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth and 10th Circuits.

Steve is an active leader in the national media law bar. He is a past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Communications Law, and has chaired several other committees within the ABA and the Media Law Resource Center. Steve also serves as the President of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, which educates about and promotes greater transparency in state and local governments.

Steve has taught media law and internet law at the University of Colorado and at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Steve was a freelance documentary producer at KQED, the public television station in San Francisco.

 

Steve was a partner at the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.   He launched his solo practice in January 2021.

Representative Experience

  • Persuaded a Colorado judge to lift an unconstitutional prior restraint order that prohibited a newspaper from publishing materials its reporter had lawfully obtained from a court clerk, including grand jury testimony.

  • Obtained the first dismissal of a libel suit against a newspaper under Colorado's anti-SLAPP statute, passed in 2019.  The court found that the statements at issue, criticizing a freelance writer's decision not to cover the annual high school play,  were either protected opinion or substantially true.

  • Obtained a published precedential ruling from the California Court of Appeal holding that  the California Public Utilities Commission must comply with the strict statutory deadline for responding to public records act requests.   The Court rejected PUC's claim that records requesters must wait for months or years, exhausting internal administrative appeals, before having access to the courts.

 

  • Obtained dismissal under Colorado's anti-SLAPP Act, of a defamation lawsuit brought by anti-abortion activists against a book author for labeling their campaign to discredit Planned Parenthood  "fake news." The court held the challenged publications were substantially true.

  • Successfully defended the Denver Post and KUSA-TV in a libel suit brought by a convicted felon who disputed the details of a press release from the District Attorney's Office announcing the jury's verdict.  Colorado's Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal under the "fair report privilege."

  • Successfully defended the weekly newspaper Westword in a defamation action brought by the former head of Emergency Medicine at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. The court held that the challenged articles were substantially true.

  • Successfully defended the operator of an online news publication, Examiner.com, in obtaining dismissal, under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, of libel claims brought by Hollywood celebrity Andrew Keegan. The court held that Keegan could not show that the news report at issue was published with actual malice.

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  • Obtained an appellate decision affirming summary judgment for Clarity Media Group on 75 copyright infringement claims brought by two photography licensing agencies. The claims were premised on celebrity photos posted to the Examiner.com website by paid third-party contributors. ​

  • Successfully defended The Discovery Channel in a suit arising from an episode of the documentary TV program Homicide Hunter, which depicted the plaintiff’s involvement in a gang-related altercation that resulted in a 14-year-old’s death. The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s defamation, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy claims, finding that the program was substantially true.

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  • Successfully defended The Denver Post and its reporter in a libel case brought by a former City Council candidate based on a report that the candidate was “caught up in a plagiarism charge.” Colorado’s Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all claims, ruling that the newspaper’s report was both substantially true and not defamatory.

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  • Successfully represented A&E Television Networks in obtaining summary judgment on libel claims premised on the Gangland: Aryan Brotherhood program. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that calling the plaintiff a "member" of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang ,when he "merely conspired with the Brotherhood in a criminal enterprise," is not actionable because it is substantially true.

Professional Highlights

Professional Activities

  • ABA Forum on Communications Law, past Chair

  • Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, President

  • ABA Section on Torts, Trial and Insurance Practice, Media, Privacy & Defamation Law Committee, past Chair

  • Media Law Resource Center, State Legislative Committee, past Co-Chair; Newsgathering Committee, past Co-Chair; and Internet Law Committee, member

  • Colorado Broadcasters Association, past member, Board of Directors

  • Media Law Reporter (Bloomberg Law), member Editorial Board

  • Sturm College of Law, University of Denver, past Adjunct Professor

  • ACLU of Colorado, Legal Panel

Honors and Recognition

 

  • 2021 First Amendment Award, Society of Professional Journalists - Colorado Pro Chapter

  • Chambers USA, "Leader in the Field," First Amendment Litigation (Nationwide), 2019-present

  • The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment law, First Amendment litigation, media law, 2003-present

    • Lawyer of the Year," First Amendment Law (Denver), 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021

    • "Lawyer of the Year," Litigation - First Amendment (Denver), 2018, 2020, 2022

  • Colorado Super Lawyers, media & advertising, 2009-2010, 2012-2017, 2019-2022

  • Law Week Colorado, Lawyer of the Year 2011, 2015; Barrister's Best 2018; "People's Choice" for

    • Colorado's Best Communications/Media Law Lawyer  2017, 2019

  • Marquis' Alfred Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018

  • Colorado Press Association "Friend of the First," 2014

  • ACLU of Colorado "Sherman Award," 2009

  • Colorado Lawyers Committee, Lawyer of the Year Award 1997

  • Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rating

Oral Arguments

Oral Arguments

All Videos
18CA1316, 18CA1339, 18CA1806
02:10:05
Play Video

18CA1316, 18CA1339, 18CA1806

14-15267 Minden Pictures v. John Wiley & Sons
34:39
Play Video

14-15267 Minden Pictures v. John Wiley & Sons

15-16765 Anthony Delevin v. Ted Holteen
30:10
Play Video

15-16765 Anthony Delevin v. Ted Holteen

Media Appearances

Publications

December 2022

Mass Shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs Prompts Two Successful Unsealing Battles

June 2022

California Recognizes "Constructive Denial" Doctrine Under Public Records Act, MLRC MediaLawLetter

Apr. 2022

Colorado Court Grants News Anchor's Anti-SLAPP Motion, MLRC MediaLawLetter

Fall 2020 

"Public Access to Police Body-Worn Camera Recordings (Status Report 2020)," Communications Lawyer

June 2020 

"Colorado Town Council Violated State’s Open Meetings Law," MLRC MediaLawLetter  

Spring 2019

Co-author, "Recent Developments in Media, Privacy, Defamation, and Advertising Law," ABA Tort Trial &

Insurance Practice Law Journal 

June 2019

"Colorado Adopts Anti-SLAPP Statute," MLRC MediaLawLetter

May 1, 2019

Op-Ed guest columnist, "Law Day: Celebrate, and support a Free Press," The Gazette

Apr. 2019

"Colorado Opens Police Internal Affairs Files to the Public – Can Two States Spawn a National Trend?" 

MLRC MediaLawLetter

Winter 2019

"Counseling Your Clients on Fair Use of Others Works ... While Standing on One Foot," Communications Lawyer

April 2019

Featured guest, "Make No Law" podcast: Gag (discussing gag orders on trial participants), Legal Talk

Network

August 2018

"Fair Use in Documentary Films: Two Helpful Rules of Thumb to Help You Navigate Copyright Gray

Areas," Video & Filmmaker

July 2018

Co-author, "Mexican Journalist Seeking Asylum Finally Free From Detention," MLRC MediaLawLetter

July 3, 2018 

"Colorado Judge Unseals Psychiatric Expert Reports in Aurora Theater Shooting Case," Ballard Spahr alert

June 2018 

"Judge Tosses Libel Suit Based on Environmental Activists' Facebook Post," MLRC MediaLawLetter

June 2018 

"Colorado Supreme Court Holds There Is No Constitutional Protection for Public Access to Court

Records," MLRC MediaLawLetter

May 2018 

Co-author, "Mexican Journalist Seeking Asylum is Granted New Hearing," MLRC MediaLawLetter

March 2018 

Co-author, "Seventeen Journalism Organizations File Amicus Brief in Support of Mexican Journalist's Asylum

Appeal," MLRC MediaLawLetter

January 30, 2018

Co-author, "Media Coalition Gains Access to Sealed Warrant Materials in Las Vegas Mass Shooting,"

Ballard Spahr alert

Jan., 2018

Co-author, "Federal Judge Refuses to Close Courtroom During Trade Secret Trial Between Silicon Valley

Titans," Ballard Spahr alert

December 13, 2017

Author, "California Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal Under Anti-SLAPP Statute of Defamation Claim

Against Online Platform Hosting User-Generated Content," Ballard Spahr alert 

Fall 2017 

"Recent High-profile Cases Highlight the Need for Greater Procedural Protections for Freedom of the

Press," Communications Lawyer

Winter 2017

"Internet Law," ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal

Summer 2017

"The Myth of Police Officer Privacy," Communications Lawyer

Winter 2016

"July 4, 1966: Birth of the FOIA – A Look Back," Communications Lawyer

Fall 2016

"As Body-Worn Cameras Proliferate, States' Access Restrictions Defeat Their Purpose," Communications

Lawyer

Aug. 2016

Why We Shouldn’t Hide What Police Body Cameras Show, Governing Mag. 

Winter 2015

"Cloud-Based Public Records Pose New Challenges for Access," Communications Lawyer

March 2014

"A Little Birdie Told Me, 'You're a Crook': Libel in the Twittersphere and Beyond," Communications Lawyer

ABA 2013

"What Is Your Exposure for Information Posted to Your Website, Blog, or Social Media Page by

Third Parties?" in INTERNET PUBLISHING: PERILS AND PRACTICES 

November 2011

"Privacy Expectations in Online Social Media—An Emerging Generational Divide?" Communications Lawyer

Sept. 2011

"Expanded Media Coverage in Colorado Courts," The Colorado Lawyer,

Spring 2002

"Libel by Implication," Communications Lawyer

Fall 2001

"City and County of Denver, Inc.: Public Access to 'Private' Records of Quasi-Public Entities," Communications Lawyer

1994

"Survey of Colorado Defamation and Related Claims Against the Media," Annual Media Libel & Related Law

Survey

Note, "Objectivity and Balance" in Public Broadcasting: Unwise, Unworkable, and Unconstitutional, 12:1 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 184-230

1994

"Survey of Colorado Defamation and Related Claims Against the Media," Annual Media Libel & Related Law

Survey

Note, "Objectivity and Balance" in Public Broadcasting: Unwise, Unworkable, and Unconstitutional, 12:1 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 184-230

Education

Yale Law School (J.D. 1994)

Stanford University (B.A. 1982) (with honors)

Admissions

  • Colorado

  • California

  • U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits

  • U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

  • U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

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

  • U.S. Supreme Court

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