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Parker Thomson, defender of the First Amendment, dies at 85

By Josh Solomon
Prominent First Amendment attorney and Miami arts pioneer Parker Thomson died Friday. He was 85. [CARL JUSTE | Miami Herald]

Prominent First Amendment attorney and Miami arts pioneer Parker Thomson died Friday. He was 85.

Before he was a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, the Harvard-trained attorney teamed up with fellow Harvard grad Dan Paul to form Paul & Thomson. From 1968 to 1983 the duo represented the likes of the Miami Herald, the New York Times, AT&T and Bank of America in First Amendment cases. His expertise included helping newspapers obtain public records.

Thomson argued three cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Miami Herald Publishing Company vs. Tornillo in 1974. He and Paul represented the Herald and won, overturning a state law that required newspapers to allocate equal space to political candidates on the editorial pages.

He also fought news organizations in court. In 1998 he represented the family of Gianni Versace, winning an injunction permanently sealing the autopsy photos of the slain fashion designer. He also worked for Teresa Earnhardt, who sought to keep autopsy photos of her husband, NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, from being made public. The case was settled in 2001 when Teresa Earnhardt and news organizations agreed an expert would examine the photos without making them public.

Thomson also performed pro bono work for groups such as the League of Women Voters and the Miccosukee tribe.

The Coral Gables resident also spearheaded the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, which opened in 2006 and has grown into one of the leading community-driven performing arts centers in the country.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which uses information from the Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and law.com.