From Clooney to Covington, lawyers celebrate client's Nobel peace prize

3 minute read

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney attends the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, Britain July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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  • Amal Clooney calls on Philippines to drop charges against journalist Maria Ressa
  • Four lawyers from Covington & Burling have also been representing the Nobel winner

(Reuters) - Newly minted Nobel Peace Prize winner and journalist Maria Ressa has a deep bench of prominent lawyers aiding her efforts to expose corruption in her native Philippines, and they are using the international recognition to push government officials to drop criminal charges against their client.

“I hope the Philippine authorities will now stop persecuting her and other journalists and that this prize helps to protect the press around the world,” international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney said in a prepared statement Friday, the day Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.

Clooney and attorney Caoilfhionn Gallagher from London-based firm Doughty Street Chambers have been heading up Ressa’s international legal team, which includes four attorneys from Covington & Burling and local counsel in Manila. (Clooney declined an interview request.)

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The attorneys are fighting a slate of criminal and civil charges against Ressa that are tied to her investigative journalism, which has exposed government corruption in the Philippines and the deadly toll of President Rodrigo Duterte’s antidrug campaign.

Ressa, co-founder of digital media company Rappler, is currently appealing a six-year sentence for libel.

"The Nobel Committee's action is wonderful news for my client and college classmate Maria Ressa—and for Maria's cause of journalists' freedom, at a time when media rights are under increased threat around the world,” Covington & Burling partner Peter Lichtenbaum said in a statement Monday.

Ressa and Lichtenbaum graduated in 1986 from Princeton University, where they both excelled—he was magna cum laude, while she was cum laude. (Lichtenbaum declined a request to be interviewed about his work for Ressa, directing questions to Clooney.) Covington lawyers Stephen Rademaker, Rani Gupta and Lisa Peets are also working on Ressa’s behalf.

Ressa first hired Covington in 2019; the firm's work for her has included lobbying the U.S. House, Senate and Department of State "to build awareness and concern" about the charges against her, according to federal lobbying disclosures.

"Our main objective has been to help ensure she is exonerated of the criminal charges brought against her by the Philippine government and never has to serve time in jail simply for reporting the news," said Rademaker, who has been leading the Covington team. "We hope the Nobel Committee's decision will lead the Philippine government to drop all the charges against her and reconsider its misguided efforts to stifle press freedom.”

Read more:

Journalists who took on Putin and Duterte win 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Prize shines light in 'dark time' for Philippines' Ressa

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com