Ambassador John Phillips was nominated by President Barack Obama on June 14, 2013 to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Italian Republic and the Republic of San Marino. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 1, 2013, and sworn in on August 16, 2013.
He departed Post on January 18, 2017.
Early life and education
Amb. Phillips was born and grew up in Leechburg, Pennsylvania, a small steel mill town in western Pennsylvania. His grandparents emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s and Americanized their family name by changing it from “Filippi” to “Phillips.”
Amb. Phillips received a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1966 and a J.D. degree in 1969 from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where he was a member of the editorial board of the California Law Review.
Amb. Phillips joined the Los Angeles, California, law firm of O’Melveny & Myers as an associate in 1969. After two years, he left to start one of the first Ford Foundation-funded public interest law firms, the Center for Law in the Public Interest (CLIPI) in Los Angeles.
Center for Law in the Public Interest
Amb. Phillips was co-director of CLIPI for 17 years. During that time, the firm was a major force litigating landmark environmental, civil rights, consumer protection and corporate fraud and accountability cases. Some of its court cases:
- Forced major revisions to the design and construction of the 17-mile $2.6 billion Century Freeway in Los Angeles to minimize the negative impact on the Watts neighborhood. The consent decree required construction of Los Angeles’s first rail rapid transit line in the meridian of the freeway, construction of 5,000 affordable housing units to replace those that were removed and the hiring and training for construction jobs of women and minorities from the area impacted by the building of the freeway.
- Forced the Los Angeles Police Department to hire more women and minorities.
- Exposed foreign bribes and payoffs by U.S. corporations to foreign governments. Those lawsuits and the admissions by more than 400 U.S. corporations to the Securities and Exchange Commission that they also made foreign bribes and payoffs led directly to the passage of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by Congress in 1977.
- Won consumer class actions suit against Toyota Motors resulting in a recall and repair of a brake problem in Toyota’s first Camry model.
Amb. Phillips played a significant role in the creation of the U.S. government’s very successful whistleblower reward program designed to encourage private citizens to expose and stop defense contractor fraud, Medicare fraud and other types of fraud against the government. He worked closely with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and then-Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) to secure congressional passage of the amended False Claims Act with “qui tam” (whistleblower) provisions which were signed into law by President Reagan in October 1986. The law has become the government’s primary tool in holding accountable corporations that have defrauded the U.S. government. To date, over $55 billion have been recovered by the U.S. Treasury from companies that have defrauded the government. The benefit-to-cost ratio of the False Claims Act has been estimated at more than $20 for every $1 the government spends on enforcement.
Amb. Phillips also started a private law practice, Phillips & Cohen LLP, in Los Angeles and later moved it to Washington, DC, with an office in San Francisco. It became the most successful law firm representing whistleblowers in False Claims Act cases. Amb. Phillips retired from the law firm when he became U.S. Ambassador to Italy. Cases initiated by Amb. Phillips’ firm have resulted in recoveries to the government of approximately $12 billion.
In 1986, shortly after passage of the amended False Claims Act, Amb. Phillips founded Taxpayers Against Fraud, a non-profit group dedicated to educating the public about government whistleblower programs and advancing public and government support for whistleblower cases.
John Phillips was selected by President Bill Clinton to be a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. He served from 1997 to 2001. In 2009, President Obama appointed Amb. Phillips to be the chairman of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, where he served for four years. He was also appointed (1988) to serve on the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference.
Amb. Phillips was a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Academy in Rome from 2009 to 2013. In the decade before he became Ambassador to Italy, he made more than 50 trips to Italy.
Awards and Recognition
- National Law Journal’s “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America”
- Citation Award, Berkeley Law school’s highest honor, for exceptional contributions to the bar, the bench, legal scholarship and the world
- Taxpayers Against Fraud Lifetime Achievement Award
- ACLU of Southern California Lifetime Achievement Award
- Lawdragon’s “Litigators Hall of Fame” in “The 500 Leading Lawyers in America” 10th Year Anniversary Issue
- 2013 Valenti Friend of the White House Fellows Award
- Law firm founded by Amb. Phillips (Phillips & Cohen LLP) cited by National Law Journal in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 as being in the top 20 plaintiffs firms in the United States because of its “exemplary work”
Amb. Phillips is married to Linda Douglass, a veteran journalist and communications strategist. They have a daughter who is an emergency room physician.