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July 2023

Ten Questions to a Media Lawyer

By C. Amanda Martin
Amanda Martin Duke School of Law faculty

C. Amanda Martin is general counsel to the N.C. Press Association, a clinical professor of law and supervising attorney in the First Amendment Clinic at Duke Law School, and Of Counsel at Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych in North Carolina.

How did you get interested in media law?

My mom was a bit of an amateur journalist over the years and was an avid reader. That got me interested in journalism and writing. Growing up, I loved law books like To Kill a Mockingbird and law movies like And Justice for All and Witness for the Prosecution. In high school, for Youth Legislature, I wrote a bill for a reporter’s privilege, which interested me greatly. Media law felt like a perfect marriage of those two interests.

In 2015, Mom and I went to a live production of To Kill a Mockingbird in Monroeville, AL, Harper Lee’s hometown. It won’t surprise you that the little Alabama town quite identifies with TKAM, and the courthouse from the movie was completely modeled after the courthouse in the center of town.

What was your first job in the business?

It depends on how you define “the business.” My very first job in a law firm was the summer after my sophomore year in college, when I was a runner for Smith, Sauer & Walker in Pensacola, Florida. The next summer I was promoted to receptionist. I soaked up everything about being in a law firm, and eventually got sold on going to law school. My first media law job was with Dow, Lohnes & Albertson in Atlanta, working for Peter Canfield and Jim Demetry. To this day, when I file a summary judgment motion in a libel case, I use an appendix based on a format I learned at DL&A.

What’s your most memorable case or experience in media law?

I value a lot of my experiences over the years, so picking a “most memorable” is tough. One that is high on the list, though, was early on, preparing for a hearing related to the O.J. Simpson trial. A screenwriter in North Carolina was subpoenaed to offer testimony about, and recordings of, her interviews with Mark Fuhrman, and she moved to close the courtroom for her testimony. We didn’t have much lead time to prepare. Our summer clerk, Chris Beall, and I worked just about all night on the documents we would file in opposition. We ran home to shower and change and then met up with Hugh Stevens to go to Winston-Salem. Hugh made the argument, and we prevailed in keeping the courtroom open. That was the first time I had been involved in a case that received much attention (and that my mom could follow on Court TV), and it was very exciting!  

The courtroom vs. the classroom: How does working with students at the Duke First Amendment Clinic compare to private practice?

The pace of the two are dramatically different. As my clinic mentor, Sarah Ludington, describes, clinic practice is litigation in slow motion. Also, in the classroom, there are so many things to consider beyond the interests of the client and success in a case, such as helping students develop a sense of their identity as lawyers. In a way, clinic litigation is freeing. Because we represent our clients pro bono, we do whatever is needed in a case without the usual concern for whether the billable hours are justified to the client. And no opposing counsel or opposing party is ever going to be able to win by wearing us down or running up fees, since there are none. After 30 years of private practice with adjunct teaching on the side, I have loved the shift to put my focus on teaching and students. It’s wonderful!

At the Wake County Courthouse with Mary Aline Fertin, one of our Clinic students. She argued and won our request for access to police investigative records related to a high-profile suicide. Sarah Ludington, on the left, is the director of the Clinic.

Are you able to maintain a decent work-life balance? What are some rules you follow?

Of course there are times that work intrudes on personal time. I sometimes describe media work, with its unexpected and urgent deadlines, as the legal equivalent of an emergency room. Because I’ve been fortunate enough to work with colleagues who also value time with their families, though, I really have been able to enjoy a good work-life balance. Perhaps the primary “rule” I have is that I usually plan my personal life first and then try to make sure my work commitments don’t intrude.

For almost all of my working life, I have lived in a different city from any other member of my family, which meant family time had to be planned ahead. And once plans were on the books, I don’t think I ever had to cancel them for work.

Me with my three best friends from law school on Bald Head Island. We still call ourselves “the Nutshells,” because one year for Halloween we created costumes that were sandwich boards drawn like the Nutshell series, with titles like “Larceny by Trick … or Treat.”

What was the best piece of career advice you were ever given?

When I was a very young lawyer, my mentor, Hugh Stevens, said to me, “If you want to develop a practice representing newspapers, spend time with newspaper people.” I think he meant that cultivating those relationships would be better than spending time with other lawyers through things like bar associations. He was right. There are news groups and newspapers that I have represented for almost 30 years, which not only has given me an understanding of what they are facing, but also deep personal relationships. Those relationships motivated me to work hard to achieve the best result I possibly could.

It’s Duke vs. UNC in the NCAA basketball finals — who do you root for?

With apologies to my current employer, that’s not even tough: it’s UNC!  (But in a UNC-UF match-up, Go Gators!)

Notwithstanding my allegiance to UF and UNC, I am indoctrinating my niece Luci and nephew Charlie into the ways of Duke.

For a first time visitor to North Carolina, what are some must see places?

Whether you like mountains or the ocean, we have something for you! The Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous, and both the Grove Park Inn (Asheville) and the Pine Crest Inn (Tryon) are great places to stay. On the coast, you can’t go wrong with The Sanderling in the Outer Banks. It’s gorgeous, peaceful, and a perfect getaway!

Pic taken over the Pensacola Bay, which separates my hometown of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola.

What journalist, judge, or lawyer (contemporary or historic) would you most like to have lunch with and what would you order?

I would love to have lunch with Bob Woodward! All The Presidents Men set the gold standard for me for the craft of investigative reporting and of what a journalist can accomplish. The fact that he is still at it — and just as good — all these years later is incredible. I’d order shrimp. (I always order shrimp when it’s on the menu.)

What television show, movie, book or podcast do you want to finish before the end of summer?

I’m in two book clubs and am trying like crazy to finish Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, and Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg. They are both wonderful!