On Thursday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced that attorneys Mara Gassmann, Elizabeth Soja, and Denver Nicks have joined the organization’s powerhouse legal team. Reporting to Deputy Executive Director and Legal Director Katie Townsend, Gassmann will lead the organization’s robust amicus practice, while Soja and Nicks will expand the capacity of the Local Legal Initiative, which provides local news organizations with the direct legal services they need to pursue enterprise and investigative stories in their communities.
“We are excited to welcome Mara, Beth, and Denver to our growing legal team and expand our capacity to provide more reporters, editors, documentary filmmakers, and others with the high-quality legal assistance they need to produce powerful reporting,” said Townsend. “Their experience and passion for this important work will help us continue to meet the clear and pressing legal needs of journalists and newsrooms across the country, particularly those in local communities.”
As a senior staff attorney, Gassmann joins the Reporters Committee from Ballard Spahr LLP, where she was most recently of counsel. Prior to Ballard Spahr, Gassmann was an associate at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP, and clerked for Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. She holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Last year alone, Reporters Committee attorneys submitted more than 40 friend-of-the-court briefs, several of which were joined by over 30 news organizations, in important First Amendment cases. In 2023, the organization continues to mobilize broad coalitions of major media and transparency organizations to bring the news media’s perspective to pressing press freedom issues, including subpoenas targeting journalists, unconstitutional prior restraints, court access, and several matters that came before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As a staff attorney, Soja will focus primarily on providing support to Local Legal Initiative attorneys based in Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, helping them litigate important matters involving access to judicial records and proceedings, freedom of information, libel, and other newsgathering and First Amendment issues.
Prior to joining the Reporters Committee, Soja was an associate attorney at Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC. She holds a J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law.
In just the first two years of the Local Legal Initiative, Reporters Committee attorneys represented more than 120 journalists and news organizations across five states. Among other outcomes, that work led to the unsealing of more than 3,300 pages of court records, and the release of over 5,500 pages of public records and more than 29 hours of police body-worn camera footage — disclosures that powered investigative reporting and helped shape policies in favor of greater government transparency.
As the Local Legal Initiative staff attorney in Oklahoma, Nicks will build upon the program’s work to help local journalists and news organizations in the state exercise and defend their newsgathering rights, access public records and court proceedings, and hold state and local government agencies and officials accountable.
Nicks was most recently an associate attorney at Barnes Law in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and before that a longtime journalist. He holds a J.D. from Tulane University Law School.
Since its launch in 2020, the Oklahoma Local Legal Initiative has had a significant impact on government transparency and accountability. Earlier this year, for example, Reporters Committee attorneys successfully sued the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Kevin Clardy on behalf of the McCurtain Gazette for records related to the death of a Choctaw Nation citizen following a violent encounter with local law enforcement. The lawsuit resulted in the release of bodycam footage and other requested records; it was also featured in a New Yorker story about the McCurtain Gazette’s efforts to investigate the local sheriff’s office.
“Over the last five decades, the Reporters Committee has shown how legal support makes a meaningful difference in empowering journalists to pursue the kinds of reporting that informs communities, inspires accountability, and underpins our democracy,” said Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “We are thrilled to welcome each of these attorneys, who will only strengthen our ability to continue to provide vital legal resources and services to journalists and newsrooms who need them, all at no cost.”