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Robin Bierstedt

MLRC First Amendment Leadership Award Recipient, 2010

Bierstedt_2003On September 30, 2010, at the biennial NAA/NAB/MLRC Media Law Conference, MLRC was honored to present its First Amendment Leadership Award to Robin Bierstedt, who recently retired from Time Inc. where she was Vice President and Deputy General Counsel with primary responsibility for all legal matters relating to TIME Magazine, and the company’s First Amendment interests.  Robin was also Chair of the Media Law Resource Center from 2001 to 2002, a member of its Board of Directors, and was a Co-Chair of MLRC’s New Legal Developments Committee.

The award was created to honor individuals who have made stellar contributions to the development of the law of the First Amendment and the institutions that promote the First Amendment.  It is intended for lawyers who have achieved senior status in our ranks, but whose work on behalf of free speech and free press should never be allowed to retire.

John Redpath, former General Counsel of Time Inc., presented the award.  Here is a transcript of his remarks.

John Redpath:  I am very pleased and honored to be here at the meeting of the MLRC in Chantilly, VA.   The MLRC has been a successful advocate and substantial resource for all who defend and protect the First Amendment.  You could find no one more worthy of the MLRC FIRST AMENDMENT LEADERSHIP AWARD than Robin Bierstedt.  You are, of course, lucky to get Robin to attend any event in person these days.  She has spent the Spring, Summer and early Fall at the Bierstedt compound on Martha’s Vineyard.   It takes something special to get her to leave.   Robin is an active tennis player who is phobic about the sun.  As you can see from the absence of a tan, she must play tennis in a burka.  I didn’t know that Nike made burkas.

Robin has been a vigorous and articulate defender of the MLRC for many years.  When I was at Time Inc. and the bill from the MLRC would arrive and I was under the pressure that all print organizations face, I would wander into Robin’s office and seek relief from Time’s obligation.  No matter how forcefully I put my case for non-payment Robin was the staunchest advocate you could have had and the check eventually but always made its way into the mail.

We are not here, however, to honor Robin as a defender of the MLRC treasury or her academic record (already fulsomely covered in the program notes)-summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with honors in English in from Barnard College or her graduation from Columbia Law School or her personal achievements:  a marriage of 26 years and mother of two boys now 24 and 19-or her fecundity as an author-the list of articles, publications and speeches is too long to list.  You are here to give Robin the MLRC First Amendment Leadership Award because of her passion and zeal for journalism, journalists and the First Amendment.

I wish I could quote some of Robin’s comments about outside counsel, particularly outside counsel that expected to get paid for representing Time but good taste and discretion prevent me.  I also wish I could have satisfied the persistent audio-visual attendant here at the hotel by showing some of the photos of Robin that I found in the Time Inc. private archive but once again discretion prevents me.

As a lawyer for Time Inc.-eventually Vice President and Deputy General Counsel-Robin was the senior lawyer who advised and counseled the journalists of Time and the other lawyers at Time who advised the other Time Inc. publications.   Unlike many journalists who must consult their lawyers, they sought her advice and guidance because they found her a source of intelligent, informed advice coupled with sound judgment.  As Rick Stengel, Managing Editor of Time magazine said  “Robin was more hopeful and more optimistic” than any lawyer he had ever worked with.   Michael Elliot, International Editor of Time described Robin as the person who “Gave us clarity and courage.”  I cannot imagine better recommendations from a client.  And they are accurate and true.  As another anonymous journalist at Time said, “Robin was the one who says yes.”

Robin brought her skills to bear on even the most mundane of tasks.  We’ve all seen claims brought against media companies which are meritless.  Many of them are so unlikely that even the lawyer who argues them can’t put much energy or enthusiasm behind them.  Yet Robin crafted her responses to these tedious claims with flair and care. She is a better writer than most of her clients, for example- In response to yet another sailor who was sure that he was the subject of the famous Eisenstadt photo (published in LIFE magazine) of the sailor and nurse kissing in Times Square on VJ Day…..While she was rejecting the claim she noted, “Any swabbie worth his bell-bottoms kissed any girl within reach.  No fewer than 10 sailors have managed to recall to the last detail how it happened and how they happened to be in Times Square.”

Robin was, of course, responsible for many large and important cases while at Time.  On her watch, Time was sued by many of the famous and powerful including two Prime Ministers (Papandreou of Greece and Hawke of Australia), an Israeli general (Ariel Sharon), the Church of Scientology and Indonesian politician (Suharto) and the spiritual leader of a militant Islamic organization.  She also dealt with plaintiffs less powerful and less famous: a con artist, a stripper, a psychic, a belly dancer, a Brazilian prostitute and a Japanese serial rapist.  Unfortunately, of course, truth, justice and the American way did not always prevail-Time had to settle or perhaps received less than favorable results but we all know that lawyers have to deal with the law and the facts as they find them and a victory for the client (no matter how deserving) is not always possible.  Robin’s role in all these and other Time matters was crucial.  She was energetic, diligent and insightful.  She calmed the clients.  She managed outside counsel.  And she provided the backbone and determination that are necessary for a public company to fight these profit draining battles.

Finally, Robin is a wonderful colleague-an adult, always good company, good humored, affable.  By her manner and example she improved the morale of the Time Inc. law department.  Quite an accomplishment, particularly in the last several years.  So I am very pleased and honored to introduce Robin Bierstedt winner of the 2010 MLRC First Amendment Leadership Award.

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