Mara J. Gassmann

Associate

gassmannm@ballardspahr.com
Tel 202.508.1104
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Mara J. Gassmann’s practice focuses on litigating and counseling news, entertainment, and other media clients in a wide range of matters implicating their First Amendment and intellectual property rights.

Before beginning her legal career, Mara was a spokesperson for CNN in its Washington, D.C., bureau. During law school, she returned to CNN as a freelance legal writer during the confirmation hearings of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and worked with Reporters Without Borders analyzing the applicability of U.S. asylum law for foreign journalists.

Mara previously was with the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.

Judicial Clerkship

Hon. Leonie M. Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

Representative Experience

Mara worked on legal teams that:

  • Defended the Associated Press against a libel claim brought by a Russian oligarch who objected to an AP report detailing his past business relationship with Paul Manafort, one-time manager of President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The court granted the AP's motion to dismiss after finding that the oligarch, a billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a public figure who failed to plausibly allege that AP published the report with "actual malice," as the First Amendment requires. The court further found that he failed to identify anything materially false in the AP report.
  • Obtained victories in federal trial and appellate courts on behalf of International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts around the globe, in a long-running case brought by a Serbian businessman who claimed that he was defamed in a Crisis Group report analyzing political turmoil in Serbia. Following extensive discovery and numerous judicial proceedings spanning multiple countries on two continents, the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., granted summary judgment for Crisis Group. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed in a unanimous opinion holding that the plaintiff, a billionaire supporter and friend of Serbia’s late prime minister, was a public figure unable to show clear and convincing evidence of actual malice, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s petition for review.
  • Successfully argued on behalf of the Associated Press that discovery motions sealed for more than eight years in a civil suit for sexual assault should be unsealed. The U.S. district court in Pennsylvania concluded that the defendant, Bill Cosby, could not meet the “good cause” criteria for sealing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) and immediately unsealed the motions papers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit subsequently dismissed Cosby’s appeal as moot.
  • Successfully represented NBCUniversal and Thomson Reuters against defamation claims brought by a corporate registration agent over an investigative report on corporate secrecy. Based on the report itself and public records, and before any discovery was taken, the U.S. district court in Wyoming granted summary judgment for the media defendants, finding that the report was non-defamatory and substantially true.
  • Successfully represented a journalism nonprofit against defamation claims brought in Maryland state court by a Cypriot corporation and its Russian owner arising from a series of online articles about international organized crime and money laundering. After the trial court dismissed all claims against the nonprofit, that ruling was unanimously affirmed by the appellate court, which held that it was not defamatory to accurately report plaintiffs’ associations with persons and entities accused of criminal activities.

Professional Activities

National Press Club

Media Law Resource Center, Prepublication Committee

American University, Adjunct Professor

Loyola University Maryland, Affiliate Professor

Recognition & Accomplishments

Washington, D.C., Super Lawyers, Rising Star, media & advertising, 2017-2018

Publications

Co-author, "Cosby Case Highlights Role of Public Access to Court Records," Ballard Spahr alert, May 2, 2018

“Anonymous Online Speech,” Communications Law in the Digital Age, 2015 (including 2016 and 2017 updates)

Georgetown University Law Center (J.D. 2011, magna cum laude)
Order of the Coif

University of Georgia (B.A. 2003)

Virginia

District of Columbia

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

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