Famed First Amendment lawyer ‘Cam’ DeVore dies

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prominent First Amendment attorney P. Cameron “Cam” DeVore passed away recently at the age of 76. Called the “dean of commercial-speech attorneys,” Cam litigated free-expression cases in courts across the country, regularly representing a host of media outlets, including The Seattle Times and CBS.

Born in 1932 in Great Falls, Mont., DeVore earned an undergraduate degree from Yale University, followed by a master’s degree from Cambridge University and law degree from Harvard University. He later helped found the leading law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

“From the time I was a very junior lawyer, I had heard of Cam DeVore as one of the leading First Amendment practitioners in the country, and for good reason,” said media attorney Kelli Sager, who works in the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright Tremaine. “He was one of the true ‘national’ experts in this field, at a period of time when a lot of areas of law were evolving.”

DeVore served as co-counsel in two U.S. Supreme Court cases involving libel law — Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1990) and Seattle Times v. Rhinehart (1984). He also regularly submitted amicus briefs in First Amendment cases to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of various organizations and companies. For example, he filed an amicus brief on behalf of Home Box Office in the celebrated battle between Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt in Hustler v. Falwell (1988). He also submitted a brief on behalf of the Beer Institute in Rubin v. Coors Brewing Company and one on behalf of the Media Institute in the attorney-advertising case Florida Bar v. Went-For-It Inc. (1995).

DeVore successfully defended CBS from a product disparagement, or trade libel, suit filed by a group of apple producers after an unflattering program aired on “60 Minutes.” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit in Auvil v. CBS (1995). He also successfully challenged a Washington state law that barred exit polling within 300 feet of polling places in The Daily Herald v. Munro (9th Cir. 1988). The court found that the law was “not narrowly tailored to advance a significant government interest, whether that interest is keeping peace, order and decorum at the polls, or insulating voters from the influence of early election return projections, and it is not the least restrictive means available.”

DeVore was not only an excellent attorney, but also a respected scholar, co-authoring the leading treatise on commercial speech — Advertising and Commercial Speech: A First Amendment Guide with Robert D. Sack, who now serves on the 2nd Circuit. DeVore and Sack, who met in 1972, first collaborated on the subject for panels for the Pracitising Law Institute in New York.

“The topic assigned to us was the law of … commercial speech,” Sack recalled during his remarks at DeVore’s Nov. 6 memorial service in Seattle. “Nice, we thought, but something of a booby prize. The governing law at the time was that there was no constitutional protection for commercial advertising.”

Through their work together, the two men developed a lifelong friendship, with DeVore serving as best man at Sack’s wedding. “Cam was not MY best man,” Sack said in his tribute. “He was THE best man.”

Through the efforts of guiding lights of the bar like DeVore and favorable U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning in the mid-1970s, commercial speech garnered some First Amendment protection.

“Cam DeVore was a titan, the big dog in the field of commercial speech,” said Richard T. Kaplar, vice president of the Media Institute. “He believed that advertising was a legitimate form of speech that deserved constitutional protection at a time when that view was not popular in many quarters. He was not afraid to defend the speech of ‘unpopular’ commercial speakers like liquor and tobacco manufacturers, and to do so with vigor and conviction.”

DeVore also maintained a high level of professionalism and decorum in the practice of law. Though a vigorous advocate, DeVore “was never shrill or hostile,” Kaplar said. “He was the consummate gentleman, possessed of an earnest and friendly demeanor that could disarm his clients’ critics.”

DeVore extended this same amiability to his colleagues.

“Cam was a delight to work with — both on a professional level and a personal level,” said Sager of Davis Wright Tremaine. “He also was one of those rare people who not only was an outstanding lawyer, but who was so comfortable in his own achievements that he delighted most of all in the accomplishments of others — he was always the first to congratulate a colleague (or even an opponent) on a job well done, the one who would invite more junior attorneys to participate in client events and tout their achievements to the client, the one who would look for opportunities to promote his partners instead of himself.”

“He was just a good guy to work with and a fun guy to be around,” Kaplar said. “I was privileged to know him.”