The First Amendment Project is a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition. For more than 20 years, FAP has provided advice, educational materials, and pro bono legal representation to journalists, documentarians, artists, activists, nonprofit organizations, and other members of the public on First Amendment and media law matters.
James Wheaton is Senior Counsel for the First Amendment Project, which he founded in 1991. He has more than 30 years of experience practicing public interest, civil rights, constitutional, and related areas of law.
Jim assisted in authoring California’s pioneering anti-SLAPP law (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”), California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, and all of the amendments thereto. He continues to litigate anti-SLAPP cases, as well as a variety of matters concerning access, freedom of the press, and media law issues.
Jim teaches First Amendment and Media Law at the Stanford Graduate School of Communications and U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Over his career, Jim has been recognized with several awards and honors, including the California Lawyer of the Year Award in 2008, 2013, and 2015; the Playboy Foundation’s National First Amendment Award in Law in 2001; and the Society of Professional Journalists’ (Northern California Chapter) James Madison Freedom of Information Award in 1993 and 2001.
He is a graduate of Brown University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Jim is also the President and Legal Director of the Environmental Law Foundation in Oakland.
Cherokee D.M. Melton is the Staff Attorney for the First Amendment Project. Cherokee has significant experience representing individuals and groups on matters related to State and Federal free speech and press rights, open records and meetings laws, defense of SLAPP lawsuits filed against people for speaking out on matters of public interest, and media/IP law.
Following law school, Cherokee served as a law clerk to the Honorable Marc L. Goldman, United States Magistrate Judge for the Central District of California. She then spent several years in private practice at a litigation firm in San Francisco, where she represented individuals, businesses, and public entities in a wide variety of matters, including complex civil litigation and class actions, in both and state and federal court. It was during this time that she developed a passion and practice for First Amendment and media/IP law. Cherokee is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan Law School.
Cherokee is a contributing editor to the 2016 Rutter Guide on Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial. She is also co-chair of the Freedom of Information Committee for the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a long-time volunteer of the California YMCA Youth & Government Model Legislature and Court Program for high school students and a recent volunteer of the YMCA Model U.N. Program for junior high students.
Cherokee is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for the Northern and Central Districts of California, the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the Southern District of Florida, the Ninth Circuit, the Tenth Circuit, the Fifth Circuit, and all courts in California.
Board of Directors
The First Amendment Project’s Board of Directors comprise individuals active in the field of First Amendment rights protection:
- Clinton Fein, President, Artist. As a political artist and photographer, Clinton Fein’s most notable victory was his Supreme Court suit against the Attorney General of the United States, challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act in 1997, where his right to disseminate his art on the Internet was upheld in a landmark victory for First Amendment rights. His criticisms of the government’s attempts to regulate speech on the Internet were published by the Wall Street Journal, who profiled him as “a player” in their “Names on the Net” special feature. Clinton was nominated for a PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award in 2001. His art, work and website have received considerable media attention both in the US and globally.
- James R. Wheaton, Secretary/Treasurer. Senior Counsel and FAP co-founder.
- Susan Faludi, Writer.
- Merrit Jones, Attorney, Bryan Cave.
- Hanna Regev has an M.A. in Museum Studies and M.A. in Modern European History from San Francisco State University. She works with a myriad of cultural organizations and art galleries in San Francisco and the Bay Area, producing cultural public programs and developing adult public programs in history, art, and museum practice. Prior to joining FAP’s board, Regev served on boards, consulted with the African American Museum, Marin Museum Association on a Mobile Museum and was president of the Northern California Council of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.