Southwestern Mourns the Loss of Professor David Kohler
David C. Kohler, Professor of Law and Director of the Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute at Southwestern, passed away on October 15 after a long battle with cancer. He was 56.
Appointed to the full-time faculty in 2003, Professor Kohler came to Southwestern following a long and distinguished career as a media attorney, including nearly a decade with TBS and CNN where he was senior vice president and general counsel. He taught the First Amendment Seminar, Mass Media Law, Media Litigation, and Representing Journalists in addition to directing the Institute, supervising Entertainment Practicum externships and overseeing the Entertainment and Media Law LL.M. Program.
"Dave Kohler contributed significantly to the advancement of the Biederman Institute and the expansion of our entertainment and media law offerings into what is likely the most comprehensive curricula in this area of any law school in the country," said Dean Bryant Garth. "He was an inspirational mentor to our students and a reasoned voice in crucial First Amendment issues. His extensive network of colleagues around the globe is a direct reflection of the tremendous respect he garnered as a prominent figure in the entertainment and media industries. Above all, he was a consummate professional, embodying the values that best represent what we aspire to in our graduates. All of us in the Southwestern community will greatly miss his warmth, generosity, dedication and enthusiasm."
Professor Kohler was a veteran of more than 25 years in the field of media law where he worked with a variety of broadcast, cable and print media companies. He played a major role in some of the most significant media cases of the past two decades, including several resulting in key Supreme Court decisions.
In 1991, he joined Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS), and soon thereafter became assistant vice president and deputy general counsel. He was promoted five years later to senior vice president and general counsel of Cable News Network (CNN). Among the substantive legal matters under his purview were First Amendment issues, copyright concerns, domestic syndication, joint ventures, labor matters, new media services, and ethics.
Colleague Richard Davis, CNN's executive vice president of News Standards and Practices, commented, "For over 10 years at CNN, Dave Kohler gave his very best to ensure that CNN's journalism was aggressive and accurate and fair. And it's a true testament to his high professionalism and infectious personality that more than seven years after leaving CNN, there were countless former colleagues anxiously awaiting word and hoping for some sort of miracle from the hospital this week."
"Dave was one of those rare lawyers whose judgment was as good as his knowledge of the law. He loved the news business and believed deeply in the importance and nobility of journalism in our democracy. He was a steady hand in a crisis and the wisest of counselors," said Steve Korn, former vice chairman and chief operating officer of CNN. "Dave was my colleague, business partner and golf partner, but most importantly he was my friend and his passing leaves a void that will not be filled."
Professor Kohler also had a considerable background in private practice, most significantly with the firm of Christian & Barton of Richmond, Virginia, where he was a partner serving clients in the publishing, television, radio and cable television industries. In addition, he served as a guest lecturer at Duke, Emory, Harvard, UCLA, and William and Mary law schools, and as an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Kelli Sager, partner in the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, participated as a panelist and guest lecturer in many Institute programs and was a close friend. She said, "Dave had an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm that was contagious. He had a lot of wonderful qualities - intelligence, common sense, a great sense of humor - but his most defining characteristic was the passion he brought to every aspect of his life, whether it was in his role as a First Amendment advocate, as a dedicated professor, or as a proud father. He will be sorely missed."
As director of Southwestern's Biederman Institute, Professor Kohler worked with faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the entertainment and media bar to promote the programs of the Institute and expand opportunities for Southwestern students and graduates in these industries. Building on the foundation established by Donald Biederman, he recruited leading entertainment law experts from around the world to serve as advisors, adjunct faculty and guest lecturers.
Professor Kohler continued the Institute's popular "A Conversation With..." series of in-depth live interviews with prominent industry experts; organized annual symposia with the Media Law Resource Center, the Los Angeles Copyright Society and the Los Angeles County Bar Association; and oversaw the entertainment and media law summer programs in London and Los Angeles as well as Southwestern's program for the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Entertainment and Media Law, the first post-J.D. degree of its kind in the country.He was also instrumental in establishing the Journal of International Media and Entertainment Law that is co-produced by the Institute and the American Bar Association Forums on Communications Law and the Entertainment and Sports Industries.
Dean Emeritus Leigh Taylor brought Professor Kohler on as Director of the Institute in 2003. "With all of his experience and connections in the media and entertainment realm, Dave brought a pragmatic and energetic leadership to the program. He was instrumental in expanding the number and range of courses, the summer program in London, and certainly the international aspects of the LL.M. program."
Professor Lon Sobel worked closely with Professor Kohler through the Biederman Institute. "Dave's sudden and untimely passing is a staggering tragedy, not only for his family and friends, but for the entire Southwestern community," he said. "Dave was a much beloved teacher, administrator and colleague. And it is difficult to imagine how we will carry on without him, though 'carry on' is exactly what he would tell us to do. Until literally the very end, he was active - by phone and email - from the Houston and Los Angeles hospitals where he was receiving aggressive treatment - in planning Institute activities for next semester. He will be deeply missed by Southwestern, for a long time to come."
Professor Kohler produced numerous scholarly articles on copyright and First Amendment issues, the most recent of which appeared in Duke Law and Technology Review, Hofstra Law Review, Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal, Federal Communications Law Journal Forum and Oregon Law Review. His book, co-authored with Lee Levine, Media and the Law, was published by LexisNexis/Matthew Bender in 2009.
Active in professional organizations, Professor Kohler held a number of leadership posts in national media and entertainment bar associations and was frequently featured as a speaker at programs of the American Bar Association Forum Committee on Communications Law, the National Association of Broadcasters, Associated Press, and the Copyright Society of America. He also served on the board of the Los Angeles Copyright Society.
A magna cum laude graduate in Anthropology at Duke University where he also earned his law degree and served on Law Review, Professor Kohler was a member of the Georgia and Virginia State and District of Columbia Bars.
The funeral for Professor Kohler will be held in Virginia. Information regarding a local memorial service is pending.