Court

ABOUT STEVE

Steven D. Zansberg

SDZ headshot Feb. 2021 (low res).jpg

For the past 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 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

  • 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, ciricizing a freelance writer's decision not to cover the annual high school play,  were either protected opinion or substantially true.

  • Obtained a Writ of Review from California's Supreme Court directing the Court of Appeal immediately to address the merits of an open records dispute brought by an investigative reporter against the California Public Utilities Commission.   The Court rejected PUC's claim that records requesters must wait for months or years, exhausting internal admistrative 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" that delibertately misrepresented the actual facts.  The court held the challenged publications were substantially true and therefore could not serve as the basis for a libel claim.

  • 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 Westword weekly newspaper in a defamation action brought by the former head of Emergency Medicine at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. The plaintiff claimed that Westword defamed him in two articles that reported a woman’s allegations that he had harassed her six years earlier. The court held that because the newspaper accurately reported the woman’s allegations, 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, which discussed a government raid on his new age church, was published with actual malice.

  • Successfully defended Clarity Media Group in obtaining an appellate decision affirming summary judgment 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. Finding that the photos had been “stored at the direction of users” of the website, the Tenth Circuit held Clarity was immune from all copyright infringement claims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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, pastCo-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

 

Chambers USA, "Leader in the Field," First Amendment Litigation (Nationwide), 2019-2020

The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment law, First Amendment litigation, media law, 2003-2022

             "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, 2019-2021

Law Week Colorado 2011 Lawyer of the Year 2015 and 2018 Barrister's Best, and 2017 and

             2019 "People's Choice" for Colorado's Best Communications/Media Law Lawyer

Recipient, 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

Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rating

Publications

        Media Challenges Excessive Secrecy in Federal Prosecution of Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes,

                      MLRC MediaLawLetter, October 2021

         Charting the Skies: Where Does Facial Recognition Technology "Fit" in the Data Privacy Cosmos?, 2:1 Univ. Notre 

                      Dame J. Emerging Tech. 292 (2021)

"Colorado Adopts Statewide Rule Governing Public Access to Judicial Records in Criminal Cases,MLRC

           MediaLawLetter, January 2021 

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

           Fall 2020 

"Colorado Town Council Violated State’s Open Meetings Law," MLRC MediaLawLetter, June 2020

"The (Unfinished) Ballad of Gunslinger/©Troll Richard Liebowitz," MLRC MediaLawLetter, August 2019

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

          Insurance Practice Law Journal, Spring 2019

"Colorado Adopts Anti-SLAPP Statute," MLRC MediaLawLetter, June 2019

Op-Ed guest columnist, "Law Day: Celebrate, and support a Free Press," The Gazette, May 1, 2019

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

          MLRC MediaLawLetter, April 2019

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

          Lawyer, Winter 2019

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

         Network, April 2019

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

          Areas," Video & Filmmaker, August 2018

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

          July 2018

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

          July 3, 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, June 2018

Co-author, "Mexican Journalist Seeking Asylum is Granted New Hearing," MLRC MediaLawLetter, May 2018

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

         Appeal," MLRC MediaLawLetter, March 2018

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

         Ballard Spahr alert, January 30, 2018

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

         Titans," Ballard Spahr alert, January 22, 2018

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

         Against Online Platform Hosting User-Generated Content," Ballard Spahr alert, December 13, 2017

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

         Press," Communications Lawyer, Fall 2017 

"Internet Law," ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal, Winter 2017

"The Myth of Police Officer Privacy," Communications Lawyer, Summer 2017

"July 4, 1966: Birth of the FOIA – A Look Back," Communications Lawyer, Winter 2016

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

          Lawyer, Fall 2016

Why We Shouldn’t Hide What Police Body Cameras Show, Governing Mag. (Aug. 2016)

"Cloud-Based Public Records Pose New Challenges for Access," Communications Lawyer, Winter 2015

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

          March 2014

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

          Third Parties?" in INTERNET PUBLISHING: PERILS AND PRACTICES (ABA 2013)

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

          November 2011

"Expanded Media Coverage in Colorado Courts," The Colorado Lawyer, September 2011

"Libel by Implication," Communications Lawyer, Spring 2002

"City and County of Denver, Inc.: Public Access to 'Private' Records of Quasi-Public Entities," Communications Lawyer, Fall 2001

"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).

PROFESSIONAL HIGHLIGHTS

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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