Celeste Phillips

Senior Counsel
Washington, DC

Celeste Phillips has represented journalists for four decades, concentrating her practice in defamation, privacy, and related media litigation and counseling for daily newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters, as well as book and newsletter publishers.

Celeste has served as newsroom counsel to a number of daily newspapers and other media entities, providing guidance to editors and reporters at each step of the newsgathering process, from prepublication review, to gaining access to records, to ensuring the protection of confidential sources and other privileged materials. In addition, she has participated in the defense of significant defamation actions brought against a host of media entities in a wide array of jurisdictions.

Celeste previously was with the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.


Representative Matters

  • Obtained victories in federal trial and appellate courts on behalf of International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts around the globe, in a long-running case brought by a Serbian businessman who claimed that he was defamed in a Crisis Group report analyzing political turmoil in Serbia. Following extensive discovery and numerous judicial proceedings spanning multiple countries on two continents, the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., granted summary judgment for Crisis Group. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed in a unanimous opinion holding that the plaintiff, a billionaire supporter and friend of Serbia’s late prime minister, was a public figure unable to show clear and convincing evidence of actual malice, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s petition for review.
  • Successfully defended hedge fund manager Steven Eisman, both at the trial court level and on appeal, in a defamation case arising out of Michael Lewis’s best-selling book on the origins of the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short, for which Mr. Eisman was a source. The plaintiff claimed he was defamed by a chapter in the book that depicted a conversation between himself and Mr. Eisman. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s prior grant of summary judgment, holding that the statements concerning the plaintiff were either constitutionally protected opinion or substantially true.
  • Successfully defended the Virgin Islands Daily News in a defamation suit by a local judge. Following a two-week jury trial, the trial court entered judgment in the newspaper’s favor. That decision was affirmed by the Virgin Islands Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which issued a significant ruling detailing the requirements public officials must meet when they claim to be defamed by alleged implications.
  • Successfully defended The New York Times in a defamation action brought by a prominent bio-defense expert named by the FBI as a “person of interest” in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings. The scientist claimed the newspaper falsely implicated him in connection with the mailings. The trial court granted the newspaper’s motion for summary judgment and the Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiff was a limited-purpose public figure who failed to establish actual malice.



University of California, Hastings College of Law (J.D. 1981)
Note and Comment Editor, Communications Law Journal
Order of the Coif

University of California at Berkeley (B.A. 1978, summa cum laude)
Phi Beta Kappa



District of Columbia

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California