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Gregg Leslie, an expert in media law, has been named the inaugural executive director of the First Amendment Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
The clinic, opening this fall, will focus on freedom of the press issues. It is funded by an almost $1 million gift from the Stanton Foundation, a private organization established by longtime CBS president Frank Stanton.
“It is an honor to be selected to launch this exciting clinic,” said Leslie, who will also be serving as ASU Law’s professor of practice of media law. “I'm thrilled to be joining such an energetic and innovative legal community, and I am really looking forward to working with the students to promote and defend First Amendment and press rights. I think this clinic will be a great addition to the school and will benefit both the community and the students who want to immerse themselves in these topics.”
Leslie said his interest in the First Amendment predates his enrollment in law school. His passion grew when, first as a student and then as a professional journalist, he ran into challenges with government employees using the law to try to hinder reporting. After graduating from law school, he said he jumped at the chance to work for a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting journalists.
He has been with the Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press since 1994, serving as legal defense director since 2000. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit association was founded in 1970 by a group of reporters and lawyers when the nation’s media faced an unprecedented wave of government subpoenas from the Nixon administration, forcing journalists to reveal confidential sources.
A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Leslie has worked for the campaign and transition team of former President Bill Clinton, has served as chairman of the D.C. Bar's Media Law Committee, is a member of the governing committee of the Communications Law Forum of the American Bar Association, and was a member of the American Bar Association's Fair Trial and Free Press Task Force.
“We are excited to have such a savvy and experienced media law expert like Gregg to help launch the First Amendment Legal Clinic,” ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester said. “A free press is essential to a democracy, making this a critically important venture. Gregg’s credentials and accomplishments, and the generous gift from the Stanton Foundation, allows us to take on this mission.”
Leslie shares the belief that a free society is largely dependent on a free press.
“The very notion of a democratic society, where people have a role in their own governance, depends on having both access to information about the government and the right to distribute it freely without fear of retaliation or prosecution,” he said. “And it's not important that the process be nice and neat. Open, robust political debate will involve angry accusations and sometimes bad information, and it all should be subject to public scrutiny. A free press is essential to that process.”
Leslie said the twin goals of the clinic will be to protect and defend First Amendment interests and to teach a new generation of lawyers how to help individuals stand up for their First Amendment rights. Students will interact with journalists and others to address the roadblocks keeping them from doing meaningful reporting.
As executive director, Leslie will run the clinic’s day-to-day operations, while ASU Law Professor James Weinstein, the Dan Cracchiolo chair in Constitutional Law, will serve as the faculty director.
Weinstein, a noted free-speech author and litigator of several significant free speech cases on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, says Leslie is the perfect fit for the clinic.
“We could not have imagined finding anybody better to serve as the executive director,” Weinstein said. “Leslie has a wealth of experience, and he has worked with young people already at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and as an adjunct at Georgetown. We are extremely lucky to have him, and I look forward to working with him.”
Leslie shares Weinstein’s excitement about the partnership and their shared goals for the clinic.
“Professor Weinstein brings a great deal of intellectual background and professional credibility to this project, and I'm truly looking forward to working with him on a regular basis,” he said. “I think his more academic orientation will combine with my practical experience in the field to give the students and the journalists we'll work with the best of both worlds. A partnership like this will benefit everyone.”