Kathryn Schmeltzer, partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman's communications group by LawCrossing


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   LAW STAR                                                                                         www.lawcrossing.com      1. 800.973.1177

                           Kathryn Schmeltzer, partner, Pillsbury Winthrop
                           Shaw Pittman’s communications group
                           [by Regan Morris]
                           As a partner with Shaw Pittman’s communications group, Kathryn Schmeltzer represents a variety of
                           media companies, from television giant Sinclair Broadcast Group to high school radio stations in Indiana.
                           LawCrossing speaks with Schmeltzer about her career and how she navigates the ever-changing and
                           complex world of the Federal Communications Commission.

Media ownership is one of the hottest issues      companies want to be treated equally with         “Frankly, at that point in time, not that
in the United States today, and attorney          other companies. Cable companies can own          many firms were hiring women, but
Kathryn Schmeltzer is one of the top lawyers      television stations. Other multimedia entities    the government was,” she said. “So I
arguing on behalf of broadcast companies          can own television stations. And you can have     looked at the FCC and I also considered
in court and before the FCC. As a partner         a cable company owning a network, owning a        the Department of Housing and Urban
with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s            television station in a particular community.     Development because real estate was
communications group, Schmeltzer helps            But if you’re just a television broadcaster,      another area that I was interested in. And I
broadcast companies challenge FCC rules,          you can’t have two television stations. So        got the job at the FCC.”
acquire and maintain licenses, and litigate       they really feel that they’re not being treated
cases.                                            equitably.”                                       Schmeltzer says she has witnessed many
                                                                                                    changes at the FCC over the years and
An expert in FCC rules, Schmeltzer has            In one high-profile case, Schmeltzer              believes the agency is more political now
been engrossed in challenging the multiple        successfully represented the Lutheran             than it used to be. With increased indecency
ownership rule, which the FCC relaxed             Church-Missouri Synod during an FCC               fines in the wake of the so-called Janet
in 2003 as a result of a challenge from           hearing and subsequent appeal involving the       Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” scandal
her client, Sinclair Broadcast Group. The         church’s challenge to the implementation of       at the Super Bowl, many of her broadcast
Supreme Court denied certiorari on the case,      the FCC’s affirmative action requirements.        clients are nervous and unsure of how to
and it is now back before the FCC and has         In another case, she successfully defended        avoid upsetting the FCC.
been delayed.                                     the former owner of two Arizona television
                                                  stations fighting to get back his license from    “There have been a lot of indecency fines,
“The problem with the FCC now is they are         the new owner. Victories in such challenges       although they’re all still in litigation. They
short two commissioners, and they’re waiting      are rare.                                         haven’t gone up to the Court of Appeals yet.
for nominations to be made,” Schmeltzer                                                             Undoubtedly they will at some point in time.
said. “So that has slowed the processes           Schmeltzer said the key to her success            Because there’s a real issue about whether
there a bit.”                                     has been flexibility, and she urges new           the FCC’s indecency regulations are arbitrary
                                                  attorneys to be open minded about jobs            and capricious,” she said. “We’ll see what
Schmeltzer, who spent more than four              when they start their careers and even            happens with those. There was a period
years working for the FCC, said the multiple      during law school. Before deciding to go to       about a year ago when it seemed as though
ownership rules are unfair to Sinclair, which     law school, Schmeltzer planned on joining         complaints of indecency were coming out of
is one of the nation’s largest broadcast          the Central Intelligence Agency. A Russian        the woodwork.”
companies.                                        literature and language student, she figured
                                                  her skills would fit well with the CIA. Then      The inner workings of the FCC have changed
“One of the rules that the Commission has is      someone told her most of the higher-ups           considerably since Schmeltzer worked at the
a television duopoly rule limiting the number     in government had law degrees and that            agency.
of television stations that you can own in a      she should apply to law school. By the time
particular market. They liberalized it a little   she earned her J.D. from the University of        “There have been a lot of changes. When
bit in an order that they put out in 2003,        Virginia School of Law in 973, Schmeltzer        I worked at the FCC, I started out at the
but Sinclair felt that they had not gone far      was hooked on the law and spent a year            Review Board, which was an intermediate
enough and that there were still problems         clerking for a D.C. Superior Court trial-level    appellate body. And that doesn’t exist
with the rule,” she said. “The chief television   judge before joining the FCC.                     anymore,” she said. “Then I went from there

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   LAW STAR                                                                                        www.lawcrossing.com    1. 800.973.1177

to the Hearing Branch and actually tried         decision, it goes right to the full commission.   “In the old days there were more outside
cases on behalf of the FCC, so I was involved    So there’s not this intermediate board. It’s      attorneys who had worked for the FCC for
if there were cases brought by the FCC           more efficient, but it may be a little more       at least some time. Nowadays there are
against license renewal applicants.”             politically driven. I have seen over the years    fewer. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it
                                                 I’ve seen the FCC more politicized, which is      may be because law firms pay more,” she
The FCC also participated when there were        unfortunate actually.”                            said. “It’s just good knowing how the agency
new applicants vying for licenses and the                                                          works and knowing the people there. I think
agency would hold comparative hearings to        Despite the many changes, Schmeltzer’s            it helps a lot.”
determine who would get the license, she said.   experience inside the FCC has helped her
                                                 navigate the agency in private practice and       Schmeltzer, who has served as president
“At the time there were a lot of                 she urges attorneys to cut their teeth inside     of the D.C. Chapter of American Women
administrative law judges. Right now             the government before going into private          in Radio and Television, said she likes the
they’re down to two administrative judges.       practice. After 4 /2 years with the FCC,         variety of clients in her practice and has
They don’t have hearings for new facilities      Schmeltzer joined Washington, DC, boutique        represented small college and high school
anymore; instead they auction off facilities,”   communications firm, Fisher Wayland               radio stations over the years, often pro bono.
she said. “Every now and then there may be       Cooper Leader and Zaragoza, as the first
a license renewal hearing, but they’re few       woman in the firm. Fisher Wayland grew to
and far between. Now the procedure is once       about 35-40 attorneys before merging with
an administrative judge issues an initial        Shaw Pittman in 2000.


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