Lee R. Crain is a senior litigation associate in the New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. His practice focuses on a broad range of high-stakes trial and appellate litigation in both federal and state courts. He has experience litigating cases involving media and entertainment, tech, employment disputes, and the First Amendment. Lee also has significant experience with crisis counseling and fast-paced, emergency litigation and has led teams seeking or defending against temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions in multiple matters.
He has argued before federal and state courts (trial and appellate) in multiple high-profile cases, including defeating a motion for a temporary restraining order filed against a former Prime Minister of Mongolia in State Agency for Policy Coordination v. Batbold (N.Y. Sup. Ct.), prevailing on a preliminary injunction motion in the firm’s historic First Amendment victory in Turner v. USAGM (D.D.C.), as well as successfully defending against motions to dismiss certain claims in litigation filed against members of the Trump Administration in Buchanan v. Trump (D.D.C.).
Lee has participated as a lead associate on some of the firm’s most high-profile recent matters and victories, including Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. v. Jim Jordan, CNN v. Trump, Karem v. Trump, Turner v. USAGM, and Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. He has also been a core member of multiple trial teams, including serving in leading stand-up roles in Lynn Tilton v. MBIA Insurance Inc. and Deon Jones v. City of Los Angeles. His work has been covered in The Washington Post, NPR, CNN and other outlets both domestic and foreign.
Recent highlights include:
- First Amendment. Lee was one of the lead associates on teams representing CNN and White House correspondent Jim Acosta as well as Playboy’s White House Correspondent Brian J. Karem in multiple victories that prohibited members of the Trump administration from suspending Mr. Acosta’s and Mr. Karem’s press pass credentials. Lee was also one of the lead associates in the firm’s U.S. Supreme Court victory in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, a landmark First Amendment decision. He was one of the lead lawyers representing executives of the U.S. Agency for Global Media and Voice of America in First Amendment litigation against members of the Trump Administration, culminating in the firm’s victory in Turner v. USAGM, which confirmed that government-employed journalists have First Amendment rights. Turner v. U.S. Agency for Global Media, 2021 WL 2201669 (D.D.C. May 17, 2021). Regarding his victory, The Washington Post reported: “Judge slaps down Trump appointee who has sought to reshape Voice of America and related agencies.” Lee’s work in Turner earned him and his colleagues recognition as a runner-up Litigators of the Week.
- Defamation Defense. Lee served as a lead associate in the firm’s victories defeating defamation claims brought in Kogan v. Facebook as well as in O’Keefe v. Twitter, in which James O’Keefe of Project Veritas claimed Twitter had defamed him when it de-platformed him on the ground that he violated Twitter’s terms. He also defeated defamation claims in Taylor v. Narumanchi, in which an employee of a New York City non-profit organization claimed her co-workers defamed her by calling her “racist.” Lee has also represented journalists in cross-border defamation litigation, including through opposing potential judgment-enforcement proceedings under the federal “SPEECH Act” as well as by pursuing discovery in aid of foreign defamation defense in multiple actions brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1782. He has also written on defamation law, and his articles have appeared in Bloomberg Law and Law360.
- Employment Litigation. Lee has represented clients in multiple employment disputes, including lawsuits regarding restrictive covenants, trade secrets, confidentiality obligations, whistleblower retaliation, and employment discrimination. He, for instance, represented a globally leading fashion model agency in litigation seeking (and procuring) a temporary restraining order prohibiting former employees from engaging in anti-competitive behavior harming the agency’s business. Lee also represented a major insurance brokerage defending against claims that its new employees violated their prior employer’s restrictive covenants. He has represented a national media company and a healthcare management company in employment discrimination and whistleblower retaliation lawsuits, respectively, including providing oral argument in an appeal before the New York Appellate Division that affirmed the dismissal of whistleblower retaliation claims against the healthcare company. Lee has also served as lead associate in successfully defeating multiple lawsuits alleging federal and state employment claims against a New York City nonprofit organization, including in lawsuits alleging the organization engaged in reverse-discrimination.
- Transnational Litigation. Lee has been one of the lead lawyers representing a former Prime Minister of Mongolia in litigations brought in seven countries seeking $250 million in damages as well as in multiple actions in federal court brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 seeking (or opposing) discovery in aid of the foreign litigations. His oral argument in New York State Supreme Court resulted in the vacating of a temporary restraining order imposed on the former Prime Minister, and his oral argument in federal court in the Section 1782 proceedings resulted in the Court awarding critical discovery to aid the Prime Minister’s litigation efforts abroad. Lee has also represented clients in multiple international arbitration confirmation proceedings, including successfully opposing a sham $18 billion arbitral award against Chevron and representing shareholders of Devas Multimedia Private Ltd. in nine-figure confirmation proceedings in multiple federal courts against the Republic of India and its instrumentalities.
- High-Stakes Commercial Litigation. Lee represented AMC in eight-figure profit participation litigation over the hit television series The Walking Dead, including prevailing in an appeal that led to the dismissal of key claims. He has also represented Lynn Tilton and Patriarch Partners in a variety of matters, including during a two-week bench trial in the Delaware Court of Chancery, in multiple appeals before the Delaware Supreme Court and in New York State, and in a jury trial in New York State Supreme Court, during which he provided oral argument on multiple motions as well as over the jury instructions. Lee has experience in a broad variety of other commercial disputes, including representing a major software company in a customer dispute and a whiskey distillery defending against claims of copyright infringement, both culminating in successful resolutions. He was also a member of the team representing Barnes & Noble and successfully defeated a multi-district antitrust litigation arising from Barnes & Noble’s higher education content-distribution.
- Appellate Litigation. Lee has broad experience in appellate matters in the federal and State appellate courts, including in New York’s high court. He won a landmark decision from New York’s highest court in Congel v. Malfitano, which, in a question of first impression, established standards for dissolution of partnerships under New York law. His team further prevailed before the high court in UBS v. Kainer, which adopted new civil procedure law for New York State. He has also litigated numerous appeals and conducted oral argument before the New York State intermediate appellate courts, including in his successful argument resulting in a unanimous victory dismissing a whistleblower retaliation suit in Frey v. Health Management Systems, Inc., 151 N.Y.S.3d 879 (1st Dept. 2021). Lee has also argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (Buchanan v. Barr) and Sixth Circuit (United States v. Machen) and has successfully settled multiple appeals in the Ninth Circuit. He also has experience in fast-paced emergency appellate proceedings, such as the firm’s appellate victories in Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo (S. Ct.) and Bragg v. Jordan (2nd Cir.)
Lee has a vibrant pro bono practice. Representative matters include:
- First Amendment & Public Right of Access. Lee was one of the lead associates in the firm’s historic jury trial victory over the LAPD in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, in which a federal jury awarded $375,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to Mr. Jones. He argued multiple motions in that case, including defeating the defendant’s motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the plaintiff’s First Amendment claim as well as his argument opposing the trial court’s First Amendment jury instructions. Lee is also one of the lead lawyers in First Amendment litigation resulting from the attacks on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. in June 2020 (Buchanan v. Trump). He successfully argued against motions to dismiss certain claims in Buchanan before the trial court and argued in the D.C. Circuit in an appeal challenging the dismissal of other claims the trial court had dismissed. Lee has also represented the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in a variety of matters before the federal trial and appellate courts in D.C. as well as in the United States Supreme Court relating to the government’s efforts to keep sealed portions of the investigation and report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
- Gun Safety Litigation. Lee is the lead associate in State of California v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and represents the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In that case, the plaintiffs challenge the federal government’s regulation of untraceable “ghost guns,” which have wrought havoc in communities nationwide. He has argued multiple motions for the Giffords Law Center, including arguing (and defeating) the federal government’s motion to dismiss the case in full. Lee has also participated as a lead amicus counsel in multiple Second Amendment cases in the United States Supreme Court, including representing 139 members of the House of Representatives in N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York as well as members of the business community in N.Y. State Rifle Association v. Bruen. Lee has worked extensively with the Giffords Law Center, which awarded Gibson Dunn the Richard D. Ogers Pro Bono Partner Award in 2021.
- Prison Rights Litigation. Lee served as lead counsel in Cavness v. Mirkarimi, a civil rights lawsuit asserting constitutional claims against guards at the San Francisco County Jail. Taking the case on appeal, he achieved a negotiated reversal of the plaintiff’s prior summary judgment loss in the trial court, succeeded in reopening discovery and amending the complaint, took and defended depositions, argued numerous motions, and prepared the case for trial, successfully settling the lawsuit on the eve of trial.
- Appeals & Amicus Briefs. Lee served as lead counsel in United States v. Machen*(6th Cir.), succeeding in vacating his client’s federal racketeering conviction, and in Chambers v. State (Md. Ct. Spec. App.), challenging convictions for attempted murder and first degree assault. He argued both appeals. Lee also has an active amicus brief practice and has represented numerous clients in amicus briefs filed in courts around the country. In San Francisco v. Trump (9th Cir.), Lee represented direct-services and policy-advocacy organizations working on behalf of LGBT immigrants supporting a challenge to the Trump Administration’s decision to defund so-called “sanctuary cities.” He further represented dozens of businesses in the United States Supreme Court and other courts supporting a challenge to the Trump Administration’s efforts to add a “citizenship question” to the 2020 Census. Lee has also represented members of Congress in litigation seeking to unseal records relating to the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And in Currier v. Virginia, Lee represented the Cato Institute in an amicus brief before the Supreme Court.
Lee is the 2022 recipient of the Federal Bar Council’s Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service (Rising Star category). The award “recognizes lawyers who have gone above and beyond in making an extraordinary contribution in the area of pro bono service.” He is also the recipient of Gibson Dunn’s 2020 Frank Wheat Memorial Award, “given annually to individual lawyers and teams that have demonstrated leadership and initiative in their pro bono work, obtained significant results for their pro bono clients, and served as a source of inspiration to others.” Lee received the award for his work on Turner v. USAGM, which resulted in a preliminary injunction forbidding political interference in the journalism of Voice of America and its sister outlets and establishing that government-employed journalists have First Amendment rights. The firm’s award further recognized his “brilliant media strategy to ensure the Firm’s clients their rightful place as heroes of the story.” Lee and his colleagues also received recognition as runner-up Litigators of the Week for the victory in Turner.
Lee graduated first in his class from the University of Michigan Law School, summa cum laude, where he received the Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship Award—the law school’s highest honor. He also received the Daniel H Grady Prize and the Class of 1908 Memorial Scholarship, for highest class standing at the end of the second and third years, respectively, and certificates of merit for highest exam scores in civil procedure, criminal law, criminal procedure, contracts, jurisdiction & choice of law, and legislation & regulation. Lee served as an editor on the Michigan Law Review, where he published a note on civil liberties and national security, and was a semifinalist in the Campbell Moot Court Competition and later a member of the competition’s executive board. He was elected to the Order of the Coif. In 2010, Lee graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in Spanish.
Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America has recognized him for Appellate Practice from 2020-2024.
Before joining the firm, Lee served as a law clerk to the Honorable Paul J. Watford of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Honorable Sidney H. Stein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Lee is admitted to practice in the State of New York as well as before the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the District of Columbia as well as the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second, Ninth, and District of Columbia Circuits. He is also admitted in the United States Supreme Court.
Lee is co-chair of the firm’s Associate Business Development Committee and previously served as a member of the Ethics Committee.
*Representation occurred prior to Lee’s association with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
- Co-Author, Coming Soon to Court: General Personal Jurisdiction of All Out-of-State Businesses in NY , New York Law Journal (July 4, 2023).
- Co-Author, A Federal Jury Verdict Rules on Policing the Police at Protests, Bloomberg Law (March 28, 2023).
- Co-Author, New York Times v. Sullivan Is Safe From Sarah Palin, Bloomberg Law (February 25, 2022).
- Co-Author, Tips for District Court Amicus Brief Success, New York Law Journal(December 24, 2020).
- Author, New York, Fix Qualified Immunity Now: Don’t Wait on the Feds, New York Daily News(June 13, 2020).
- Co-Author, Administration Should Respect Voice Of America’s Autonomy, Law360(June 12, 2020).
- Co-Author, COVID-19 News Defamation Claims Are Unlikely To Succeed, Law360(May 4, 2020)
- Co-Author, Trump Likely Doesn’t Have Power To Reopen Businesses, Law360(April 15, 2020)
- Co-Author, Press Pools Protect 1st Amendment During Pandemic, Law360(April 7, 2020)
- Co-Author, The Constitutionality of Mobile Sports Wagering in New York State, New York Law Journal(February 3, 2020)
- Co-Author, Contractual Duties to Conduct a Business in Accordance With ‘Sound Business Practices’, Delaware Business Court Insider(July 25, 2018)
- Author, Learning the Court de Novo, American Bar Association Litigation and Appellate Practice Section (December 7, 2017)
- Author, The Legality of Deliberate Miranda Violations: How Two-step National Security Interrogations Undermine Miranda and Destabilize Fifth Amendment Protections, 112 Mich. L. Rev. 453 (July 11, 2013)