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Leita Walker
Leita Walker

2020 Attorneys of the Year: Leita Walker

Leita Walker has taken her first career of journalism and turned it into the focus of her second — the law. And both were in sharp focus during 2020.

Walker, partner, Media and Entertainment Law at Ballard Spahr, is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, where she met her husband, also a journalism major. They soon realized that the lives of two journalists might not be the most family-friendly, so she then graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law, specializing in media law.

Her experience in general, but specifically her work during the trial of Mohamed Noor when she worked to ensure journalists’ access to court proceedings, put her at the top of the call list for news organizations when they descended on Minneapolis following George Floyd’s death.

“There was a CNN reporter arrested live on the air,” she said. “I got a call saying, ‘Will you be on call?’”

She said yes and spent the ensuing days ensuring journalists were released from custody and that charges against them were dropped. That time taught her a lot about how important it is to work well with politicians and law enforcement, but that continuing education around the First Amendment and the rights and privileges it affords both journalists and the public is also necessary.

“Open lines of communication are necessary,” she said. “But it’s important to educate — I’m really focused on that.”

She is working now on ensuring the media will have everything it needs when the trials of the former police officers involved in Floyd’s death begin this year.

She’s assembled a group of 13 media and open government organizations, local and national, to ensure press and public access to the court. She’s already challenged a gag order on participants, and has gotten the public the right to copy and disseminate the body cam footage of Floyd’s arrest and death. Most importantly, the trial will be televised.

“It will be livestreamed, which is historic,” she said. “I think that’s been a silver lining to the pandemic. Showing that these things can be done by video. Citizens want to be engaged.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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