First Amendment Attorney Laura Prather of Austin is one of the first winners of the Tony Mauro Media Lawyer Award, established this year by The American Lawyer and ALM to honor attorneys who zealously advocate for freedom of the press.
Also honored in the initial awards is CNN's legal department, led by David David Vigilante and Drew Shenkman.
A partner at Haynes and Boone in Austin, Prather was selected for her "tireless and successful efforts advocating for legislation to strengthen free press and speech rights in Texas," according to the announcement by The American Lawyer.
"The choice of Prather reflects the importance of free press advocacy at the state level through legislation and litigation, and the award for CNN’s legal department highlights the perhaps under-publicized work of in-house counsel in the First Amendment arena," according to the announcement.
“Laura has changed the legal landscape for free speech rights in Texas,” said George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, who nominated Prather. Prather was instrumental in the passage of important pieces of legislation involving reporters’ privilege, defamation and SLAPP litigation. The latter refers to “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” baseless but costly lawsuits aimed at intimidating and silencing journalists and members of the public who speak out.
The Texas anti-SLAPP law, which Prather helped create in 2011, was under attack by the Texas legislature in 2019. Prather mobilized a coalition of media outlets and public interest organizations to support the law, and a reform measure was passed that “preserves the integrity” of the law, and “in some instances, makes its protections stronger,” according to Freeman.
CNN’s legal department was instrumental in the high-profile case of CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. When Acosta's “hard pass,” necessary for access to the White House, was revoked, the in-house team worked with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Boutrous Jr. in developing a “comprehensive strategy to hold the Trump Administration to account,” according to HBO senior vice president Stephanie Abrutyn, who nominated the CNN team. The strategy included an unusual lawsuit against the Trump administration. Last November, Acosta’s pass was restored, and the lawsuit was dropped.
The CNN legal department manages “a multitude of access and freedom of information cases around the country,” Abrutyn wrote. “Whether supporting physical security efforts or making sure the journalists know the lawyers have their backs if something goes wrong, CNN’s in-house lawyers are always there.”
The award was created to mark the recent retirement of Tony Mauro, ALM's longtime Supreme Court correspondent. In addition to covering the U.S. Supreme Court for the last 40 years, Mauro has been a long-serving member of the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. In 2011, he was admitted into the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame, recognizing his work promoting greater public access to the courts and other institutions.
The awards will be given to the recipients at the annual American Lawyer Industry Award gala in New York City on Dec. 4.