Cynthia L. Counts

Cynthia L. Counts

Attorney Profile

Top Rated Media & Advertising Attorney in Atlanta, GA

Duane Morris LLP
 | 1075 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 2000
Atlanta, GA 30309
Phone: 404-253-6910
Fax: 404-393-4611
Selected To Super Lawyers: 2014 - 2020
Licensed Since: 1992
Practice Areas:
  • Media and Advertising (60%),
  • Communications (20%),
  • Intellectual Property (10%),
  • Civil Rights (10%)
Attorney Profile

Cynthia Counts is a partner in the Atlanta office of Duane Morris LLP, focusing on libel, privacy, copyright and First Amendment law. A seasoned litigator with more than 20 years of trial and appellate experience, Counts defends individuals, newspapers, websites, television stations and businesses in libel, as well as breach of contract, invasion of privacy, fraud and promissory estoppel cases. She also represents media and publishing companies in prepublication review matters and in emergency court hearings to contest motions for injunctions as unconstitutional prior restraints, to quash subpoenas on the basis of reporter’s privilege and to gain access to court proceedings or public documents. She is best known for her aggressive motions practice, and for her success in winning libel cases outright in the early stages of litigation, before expensive discovery becomes necessary. In that regard, Counts has been at the forefront of the quest for a broad application of Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute, enacted in 1996 to provide an early mechanism for the dismissal of harassing libel litigation.

 

Recent outcomes have included: summary judgment for client in defamation claim filed against Atlanta FOX affiliate for story reporting that veteran had lied about receiving Purple Heart award (2016) (this decision was affirmed by Georgia Court of Appeals, 2017); prevailed on a motion to dismiss in the Nevada District Court arguing that Cox Communications was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for passively hosting websites containing information regarding an expunged criminal conviction (2017); used amended Georgia anti-SLAPP statute to secure early stage dismissal of libel complaint in which plaintiff alleged that defendant’s notification to insurance company about possible arson in a house fire constituted defamation (2017); obtained dismissal of a libel suit against a community newspaper (Statesboro Herald) by an individual who alleged that the newspaper’s report of her arrest was false and defamatory (2016); dismissal of a defamation claim against CBS affiliate by physician investigated in cosmetic surgery deaths (2015); summary judgment for a reality TV performer in a libel claim over comments she made on her network show (2015); early summary judgment for hosts of a popular Spanish radio program sued for libel over satirical comments on their show (2015); voluntary dismissal of a libel claim against a whistleblower in a Department of State matter involving alleged contract fraud (2014); and an 11th Circuit order for sanctions of $545,000 against plaintiffs who filed a frivolous libel claim against a Rolls Royce club member (2008).

 

Counts has also litigated successfully for individual clients with free speech concerns: from those speaking out about assisted suicide in a state that tried to prohibit such speech, to individuals facing anti-gay discrimination in requests for vanity license plates, to those wrongfully arrested for verbally criticizing law enforcement, or for uttering profanities a public meeting.

 

She is a sought-after commentator and writer on libel, privacy, Internet, the First Amendment and open government law. In 2014, she became a member of the governing board of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law. She is a director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and chairs the Media Law Resource Center’s Newsgathering Committee.

 

Counts is also an adjunct professor teaching media law at Emory University Law School and has taught in the undergraduate journalism program. She has been a Georgia Super Lawyer from 2014 to the present.

 

Counts is a 1992 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law and a 1989 cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

About Cynthia Counts

Admitted: 1992, Georgia

Professional Webpage: http://www.duanemorris.com/attorneys/cynthiacounts.html

Honors/Awards:

  • First Place Winner, Russell Moot Court Competition, University of Georgia School of Law, Spring 1990
  • Jessup International Moot Court Team, University of Georgia School of Law, Spring 1991
  • Second Place International Competition, University of Georgia School of Law, 1992
  • Cum Laude, University of Georgia School of Law, 1992
  • AV-Preeminent* Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, Martindale-Hubbell, 2017
  • First Place Southeastern Regional Competition, University of Georgia School of Law, 1992
  • Listed in Chambers USA: Litigation, Recognized Practitioner, America's Leading Business Lawyers, 2017, Chambers USA, Recognized Practitioner, 2017
  • Order of the Coif, University of Georgia School of Law, 1992
  • While at University of Georgia, Ms. Counts was the winner of the First Year Moot Court competition and in her second year she won the National Championship as a member of the four-person Jessup International Moot Court Team.  This same team was Second in the Jessup International Moot Court and won Best Brief in the World.
  • First Place National Competition, University of Georgia School of Law, 1992

Bar/Professional Activity:

  • Board of Directors, Georgia First Amendment Foundation (2015-present), 2017
  • Chair, ABA Women in Communications Law, 1999
  • Co-Chair of the Freedom of the Press Committee and Member of Atlanta Press Club., 2011
  • ABA Torts Insurance Practice Section, Defamation Law Committee., 2011
  • American Bar Association
  • Governing Board of ABA Forum on Communications Law (2015-present), 2017
  • Adjunct Professor of Media Law for Emory University’s Law School (Spring 2012 - Current)., 2013
  • Vice-Chair, Media Law Resource Center Newsgathering Committee (2011 - Current)., 2013
  • State Bar of Georgia
  • Co-Chair, Media Law Resource Center, Newsgathering Committee, 2005 - Present
  • Chair, ABA Torts and Insurance Practice, Media Law and Defamation Torts, 2001
  • Sponsor and active member of the Organizing Committee for the Georgia Bar's Media and Judiciary Seminar.  Active committee member since 1997 and sponsor since 2001., 2013
  • Georgia, 1992
  • Atlanta Bar Association

Pro bono/Community Service:

  • One of the founding members of Anywhere to Anywhere for Arthritis Team (A2A4A.com), an organization formed to promote awareness and raise money for research on arthritis. Since 2007, our group of marathon runners has raised more than $140,000, competing in marathons in the U.S. and abroad.

Scholarly Lectures/Writings:

  • Written at a time when the Internet was uncharted legal territory, Ms. Counts' law review article on jurisdictional issues in Internet libel cases is still frequently cited by law school professors and other law review articles., Co-Author, Libel in Cyberspace: Liability and Jurisdictional Issues in this New Frontier, Albany Law Review, 1996
  • Co-Author, Handbook on Georgia Appellate Procedure, 1996
  • 5th Annual Product Liability Seminar, Co-Author, Litigating Product Liability Case Under the Banks "Risk/Utility" Test: Predicting the Line Between Summary Judgment and Triable Claims and Outlying Trial Strategies for a Risky but Utilitarian World, 1996
  • Speaker, Motions for Summary Judgment and Other Pre-Trial Motions, Civil Litigation for Younger Lawyers Seminar, 1995
  • Speaker, Curbing Discovery Abuses: Answering Discovery Requests, Georgia Institute for Continuing Legal Education, 1996
  • Curbing Discovery Abuse Seminar, Speaker, Answering Discovery Requests, Georgia Institute for Continuing Legal Education, 1998
  • Speaker, Ways to Improve Relationships Between the Bar, Media and Judiciary, Libel Defense Resource Center, 2000
  • Author, Georgia’s Anti-SLAPP Statute Applied in Media Case: First Published Decision Applying Statute to Media Defendant, Media Law Resource Center, 2008
  • Fifty-state survey of privacy law, Co-Author, Survey of Georgia Privacy Law, Media Law Resource Center, 2001
  • Author, Georgia TV Station Wins Summary Judgment: News Broadcast was True; Plaintiff Failed to Show Fault, Media Law Resource Center, 2009
  • Speaker/panelist at the University of Georgia's annual Digitial News Workshop at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication on legal and ethical issues journalists face today, the increased significance of social media in news reporting and the risks of relying on internet information resources. , Speaker , Digital News Blue Jeans Workshop, University Georgia Grady College of Journalism, 2011
  • Column regarding risks associated with a Georgia Senate Bill that would have trumped the right of citizens to learn about tax breaks or deals offered to recruit private companies to Georgia.  The proposed law would have effectively permitted government officials to make secret deals and withhold details about how tax-payer money was being spent., Guest Columnist, Taxpayer Money Always Needs Public Scrutiny -- No Exceptions, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2011
  • At the Women in Communications Law meeting held January 29, 2010, panel of in-house and outside counsel discussed their experiences and success stories with alternative fee billing. , Speaker, Alternative Fee Billing For Media Cases, ABA Women in Communications Law Committee, 2010
  • Co-author of a newsletter article sharing strategies about how to quickly and efficiently win media cases with minimal cost to her clients., Co-Author, Strategies for Efficiently and Economically Winning a Media Case, ABA Media, Privacy, & Defamation Law Committee Newletter, 2011
  • Panelist during discussion sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens regarding how open record requests were used to uncover a cheating scandal in the Atlanta public school system and how the revised open records bill will affect the future of investigative reporting., Atlanta Press Club, 2011
  • Presentation to authors explaining how libel and privacy claims could be brought against them for using real-life individuals in both fiction and non-fiction, and how they can minimize their risk of being sued., Speaker, Libel & Privacy 101 for Authors, BookLogix, 2011
  • The Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Milkovich does not deserve the scarlet letter it has received from the libel defense bar., Co-author, Communications Lawyer, Winter 2016, American Bar Association, 2016
  • The Court's emphasis on the need to set forth a plausible claim for relief makes particular sense in public figure defamation cases because it helps ensure that those exercising their First Amendment rights will not be unduly burdened with expensive and baseless litigation., Co-author, Palin's Suit Against The New York Times Dismissed by Federal Court Weighing in on Defamation and Political Editorials, Media Law, 2017
  • In its recent decision in Cottrell v. Smith, S16A0013, 2016 Ga. LEXIS 473 (July 8, 2016), the Georgia Supreme Court addressed a number of topics that are common in many defamation cases and clarified the law in the areas of defamation per se, limited purpose public figures and actual malice. The court’s ruling acknowledged the constitutional safeguards that protect our free speech rights when commenting on public controversies., Co-author, Supreme Court of Georgia Clarifies Constitutional Protections for Commenting on Public Controversies, Media Law, 2016

Verdicts/Settlements:

  • Koly v. Enney, 3:06-CV-68-JTC (N.D. Ga. April 18, 2007) Counts Law Group won a judgment on the pleadings without the use of any formal discovery to successfully defeat a $1 million federal libel lawsuit brought by a Connecticut medical products company and its former CEO over criticism the CEO received for his involvement in a Rolls-Royce club.  Elizabeth Enney, the defendant in the suit, is a Georgia resident and volunteer officer in the Rolls-Royce Owners Club and had written an internal club memo raising concerns about an undisclosed conflict of interest involving M.S. Koly, then the CEO of Delcath Systems, Inc., and another member of the car club's board of directors.  In the ruling, Judge Jack T. Camp of the Northern District of Georgia agreed that Ms. Enney's memo was "substantially true" and granted her motion to dismiss the suit.  Judge Camp's opinion accepted Counts Law Group's contention that the suit was insufficient under the libel law of either Georgia or Connecticut.
  • Obtained dismissal of libel complaint -  Used amended Georgia anti-SLAPP statute to secure early stage dismissal of libel complaint in which plaintiff alleged that defendant’s notification to insurance company about possible arson in a house fire constituted defamation. Gauthier v. Vaughn (Ga. Superior Court, Forsyth County, 2017). Civil action 16CV-21633., 2017
  • Anti-SLAPP Prompts Dismissal in Claim Against Whistleblower --- Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, LLC v. Christopher G. Herman (Ga. State Court, Fulton County, 2014) Civil Action File No. 14EV000671H  Successful use of an anti-SLAPP defense in a libel case involving a whistleblower’s emails led the plaintiffs to voluntarily dismiss their claim against our client. Mr. Herman was a former employee of the plaintiff who reported to federal officials that plaintiffs made it a practice to illegally cut out joint venture partners after securing significant government contracts. Counts Law Group argued that the defendant’s emails to federal officials regarding a $25 million Department of State contract in Uganda were protected under anti-SLAPP, and the trial court emphatically agreed, prompting the dismissal., 2014
  • Summary Judgment for Reality TV Performer Sued over Comments on Show -- Mickey Wright, Jr. v. Kimberly Michelle Pate, et al.  (Ga. Superior Court. Fulton County, 2015) Civil Action 2012CV225263 A singer and cast member of a reality television show that documents the lives of performers trying to “make it” in the music industry was sued for defamation by her former manager regarding comments that were broadcast on the show about their personal and professional relationship several years before the show began. Counts Law Group represented Ms. Pate and, working with co-counsel, was granted summary judgment after uncovering “tweets” and other evidence supporting Ms. Pate’s account and establishing early on that the plaintiff was a public figure and thus subject to the constitutional “actual malice” standard. , 2015
  • County Settles Client’s Free Speech Claim for $100,000 --- Amy Barnes v. Cobb County et al. (N D. Georgia 2014) Case No. 1:2014cv00948. On Easter Sunday, 2012, Amy Barnes was biking to the store for butter. She became upset at the way police officers were detaining a burglary suspect and yelled an epithet at them. They abandoned the suspect to chase after Ms. Barnes, arrested her and jailed her for nearly 24 hours. Counts Law Group helped secure a dismissal of the criminal charge in State Court and then pursued a free speech claim in federal district court that concluded in 2014 with a $100,000 settlement in favor of Ms. Barnes., 2014
  • Obtained dismissal of a libel suit against a community newspaper by an individual who alleged that the newspaper’s report of her arrest was false and defamatory. Wilkerson v. Langston Chapel Middle School, et al. (S.D. Ga. August 17, 2016)., 2016
  • Dismissing Actions under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP Statute: Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1996 to provide an early mechanism for the dismissal of harassing libel litigation.  Counts Law Group has been at the forefront of the fight for a broad application of the statute to various types of claims and defendants.  For example, in Boxcar Development Corp. et al. v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc., we won a full stay of discovery and dismissal with prejudice on grounds that Plaintiff’s failure to comply with verification requirements under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute barred claims against FOX 5 for libel, invasion of privacy, fraudulent misrepresentation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Ga. Super. Ct., DeKalb County May 1, 2008).
  • Godfrey v. Cobb County and New World Communications of Atlanta, No. 06CV2362-01 (Ga. Super. Ct. Cobb Co., July 13, 2009) Based upon Defendant’s introduction of undisputed evidence discovered solely by counsel’s  informal investigation,Counts Law Group won a decisive summary judgment on a former public official’s claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and public disclosure of private facts against defendant television news station.  Rather than simply deny summary judgment based upon the existence of apparently conflicting facts presented by the parties, the Court determined that the substance of the newscast was objectively true, and therefore, no genuine issue of material fact existed for determination by a jury.  Despite finding Plaintiff to be a public figure, the Court notably held that the Plaintiff’s evidence would have failed as a matter of law even to establish negligence.
  • Successfully defended Telemundo Atlanta in a libel suit arising from the station’s investigative news reports about the plaintiff’s involvement in running an unaccredited school. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case upon threat of a motion to strike under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute. Beltran, et al. v. Korean American Television Broadcasting Group, et al. (Ga. Superior, Gwinnett County, September 6, 2016)., 2016
  • Annisman v. Window Media, 00A73809-1 (State Ct. DeKalb Co, Oct. 22, 2001) Counts Law Group obtained a summary judgment order dismissing all of Plaintiff Lee Annisman's libel claims without engaging in formal discovery.  The claims were based on a newspaper article describing numerous medical malpractice lawsuits filed against Annisman, a doctor who regularly treated HIV patients in the Atlanta area. The Court flatly rejected all of Plaintiff's libel claims, finding that Defendants' newspaper article was not defamatory as a matter of law and noting that "libel by omission" is not a recognized legal theory in Georgia.
  • Website Defamation Claim Against Cox Communications In Michigan Dismissed -- Prevailed on a motion to dismiss in the Michigan Circuit Court arguing that Cox Communications was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for passively hosting websites containing information regarding an expunged criminal conviction. Court found that all of Plaintiff’s claims against Cox were barred by Section 230 of the CDA and dismissed them with prejudice. John Doe v. Perfect Privacy LLC (Michigan 7th Circuit Court, 2017) Case No. 17-108537-CZ. , 2017
  • Summary Judgment Granted in Defamation Case Against Radio Hosts -- Gabriela Gonzalez-Lamberson v. Davis Broadcasting Company ( Ga. State Court, Gwinnett County, 2015).  Civil Action No. 11C-8425-4. Our clients were two radio program hosts and the station that aired their program, a satirical show that discussed issues particularly relevant to an Hispanic audience. They were sued in a defamation and false light claim brought by the executive director of an agency that has provided essential services to the Mexican consulate in Atlanta and to Mexican nationals in three southern states.  A Gwinnett County State Court Judge granted our early motion for summary judgment and dismissed the claim, finding that the jokes about the Plaintiff were constitutionally protected satire and that the Plaintiff was a limited purpose public figure and could not show actual malice., 2015
  • Free Speech Defense Prompts Disorderly Conduct Case Dismissal --- State of Georgia v. Kenneth Ray Chiavone (Ga. State Court, Fayette County, 2015) Case No. 2014SR-0451. Our client was accused of disorderly conduct following a verbal confrontation with his neighbors, who recorded the interaction, which included profanities, on video. Counts Law Group successfully argued that the statements did not rise to the level of "fighting words" as required by the statute, and the charges were dismissed., 2015
  • Obtained summary judgment for television news station and reporter following a veteran’s claim of defamation and libel after station reported veteran had lied about receiving a Purple Heart. Ladner v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc., 2016 WL 6560868 (Ga. State Court, DeKalb County October 25, 2016). Decision affirmed in client's favor by Georgia Court of Appeals (2017). , 2016
  • Obtained $545,000 Sanction for Frivolous Libel Action: One particularly unique advantage of hiring Counts Law Group is that Plaintiffs soon learn of the highly publicized $545,000 consent order we obtained for our client following lengthy frivolous libel litigation. In M.S. Koly and Delcath Systems Inc. v.Enney, 07-12397 (11th Cir. 2008), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court on abuse of discretion and found that Rule 11 sanctions and attorney's fees were mandated for the frivolous libel action filed against our client.  The appellate reversal ultimately resulted in a $545,000 consent judgment.  This case has proven to be a significant deterrent for many plaintiffs and we have used it to the advantage of many of our clients.  See: “Rolls Royce club feud ends in $545k settlement,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (March 11, 2009), and “11th Circuit Demands Sanctions in Libel Suit,” Law.com (March 25, 2008).
  • Fighting Injunctions as Unlawful Prior Restraints: In addition to filing frivolous libel lawsuits, some plaintiffs want to chill speech by seeking injunctions or temporary restraining orders.  Counts Law Group has a reputation for aggressively fighting against any prior restraint. For example, we successfully opposed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent FOX 5 from broadcasting an audio tape.  After an emergency hearing and oral arguments, the DeKalb County Superior Court denied Blue World Pools' motion citing "insufficient evidence to overcome the heavy presumption against any prior restraint on the exercise of FOX 5's First Amendment rights in airing the audiotape."  Blue World Pools Inc. v. New World Communications of Atlanta Inc., 06 CV 13196 (DeKalb Co. Sup. Ct. Nov. 2006)., 2006
  • Obtained judgment on the pleadings in favor of the producers of the COPS television show in a defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress claim. Butler v. Gwinnett County et al., No. 1:15-CV-3289 (N.D. Ga. June 3, 2016)., 2016
  • Collins v. Creative Loafing Savannah, (264 Ga. App. 675, Dec. 2003) (Ga. State Ct. Fulton County 2002). Counts Law Group successfully defeated a former Creative Loafing employee's appeal alleging libel, invasion of privacy (false light and appropriation), and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Creative Loafing allegedly used her likeness to create a cartoon caricature published in conjunction with a cover story on telemarketing practices. Counts Law Group not only obtained summary judgment from the trial court without the use of discovery, but also successfully defended the former employee's appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
  • Defamation Claim Against Cox Communications In Nevada Dismissed --Prevailed on a motion to dismiss in the Nevada District Court arguing that Cox Communications was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for passively hosting websites containing information regarding an expunged criminal conviction. CDA 230 holds that online intermediaries that host or republish speech are not legally responsible for what other publishers say or do. Wilson v. Web Express LLC (District Court of Nevada. Eighth Judicial District Court Clark County). Civil Action WL1145422017. , 2017
  • Client Wins Free Speech Case over Vanity License Plate --- Gilbert v. Mikell, Case No. 1:13-cv-00110 (N.D. Ga. 2013) Our client sought prestige license plates but was denied because the Georgia Department of Driver Services had determined the requested tags (ex. 4GAYLIB) were obscene. Counts Law Group and co-counsel filed suit in federal court. In settling our claim, the state paid all the costs of the litigation, changed the rules for vanity license plates to make them less arbitrary and enabled our client to get the tag he wanted. , 2013
  • Anti-SLAPP Defense Leads to Quick Libel Case Dismissal --- Nedra Dodds v. Adam Murphy, CBS46, Channel 2 Action News, and Unknown John Does (Ga. Superior Court, Cobb County 2015) Civil Action No. 14-1-5746. An anti-SLAPP defense mounted by the Counts Law Group on behalf of our broadcast clients led to the early dismissal of a physician’s libel claim that investigative television news coverage of the deaths of several of her cosmetic surgery patients was the reason her license was suspended. The trial court agreed with our contention that the news reports met both the “commenting” and “petitioning” speech provisions of the anti-SLAPP statute and dismissed the claim., 2015
  • Consumer Rights to Post Online Reviews Upheld --- Viking Fence Company, LLC v. Charles Denyer and Megan Denyer, Ga. Superior Court, Fulton County, (2014). Civil Action File No. 2014-CV-248699.  A fencing contractor acknowledged to our clients that the problems and mistakes that occurred during construction of a fence on their property amounted to “a disaster.” Nevertheless, he still sued them for libel when they quoted from his letter to them in online reviews they posted regarding his company’s performance. Counts Law Group won a judgment on the pleadings, referencing a voluminous record of cases protecting a consumer’s right to voice an opinion of the service received., 2014
  • Fighting Subpoenas served on Reporters: Reporters cannot be compelled to testify or produce their notes unless the strict requirements set forth in Georgia’s Reporter’s Shield Law are met. O.C.G.A. § 24-9-30.  Counts Law Group has significant experience asserting the Reporter’s Privilege to fight subpoenas.  For example, in Hendrix v. Highsmith, we successfully quashed Plaintiff's motion to compel disclosure of documents and information a FOX 5 investigative reporter obtained from an anonymous source during newsgathering. In applying Georgia's Reporter's Shield law, the Court held that a plaintiff must demonstrate that his claims are viable and that the disclosure of the information would be critical to his case.(Ga. Super. Ct., Hall County May 14, 2008).
  • Obtained dismissal of a libel lawsuit by a local Assistant District Attorney upon threat of a motion to strike under Georgia’s newly amended anti-SLAPP statute. Ferguson v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc. (Ga. Superior, Fulton County, September 9, 2016)., 2016

Educational Background:

  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A., Cum Laude, English. Recipient of the Sogrosso Scholarship in English for Academic Achievement, 1989

Industry Groups

  • Media
Show More
Office Location for Cynthia L. Counts

1075 Peachtree Street NE
Suite 2000
Atlanta, GA 30309

Cynthia L. Counts:

Last Updated: 10/15/2019

Page Generated: 0.51085901260376 sec