Texas Gavel Award winners were honored at the Freedom of Information Foundation annual conference in Austin. Shown following the presentations are (from left) State Bar of Texas President Joe K. Longley, Jason Wheeler of WFAA-TV, Eleanor Dearman of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Anita Hassan, formerly of the Houston Chronicle, Jessica Savage and Veronica Flores of KRIS-TV, and Rudy England, chair of the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee.
State Bar of Texas President Joe K. Longley and SBOT Public Affairs Committee Chair Rudy England welcomed journalists from around the state as winners of Texas Gavel Awards, presented at the John Henry Faulk Award Luncheon during the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas annual conference.
The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee presents the Texas Gavel Awards for journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.
The 2018 award winners are:
Print, Major Metro
Anita Hassan, formerly of the Houston Chronicle, for “Serial Indifference,” for a four-part series that began when the community and country learned that a rape victim was jailed to compel her testimony against her attacker. Hassan’s months of reporting uncovered failings in the criminal justice system that allowed the woman’s attacker — a convicted sex offender accused of raping several homeless women — to walk free for years. Hassan was an investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle when she wrote the series and is now on the investigative team at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Eleanor Dearman and Krista M. Torralva of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times for using public records and interviews to reveal that a sitting judge, accused in a road rage incident of pointing a gun at a vehicle’s occupants, also had been involved in earlier road rage cases. They continued their coverage in 2017. Dearman covers courts, crime and politics at the Caller-Times. Torralva is now a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. (After the submission period for the Texas Gavel Awards concluded, the judge was found not guilty of an initial felony charge and prosecutors later agreed to dismiss a second count. The judge sought inpatient treatment for a decades-long struggle with PTSD in August.)
Broadcast, Major Metro (tie)
Tanya Eiserer and Jason Wheeler of WFAA-TV in Dallas each received a Texas Gavel Award. Eiserer’s special report “A North Texas Rape Victim Fights for a Voice” highlighted a woman’s fight for justice after she was sexually assaulted and felt re-victimized by authorities. She says officials failed to notify her about grand jury proceedings, leading her to file open records requests to obtain information. Wheeler’s report “’Miss Manners’ Goes to Texas Prisons to Teach Etiquette to Inmates” examined the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s prison entrepreneurship program, designed to reduce recidivism. The report featured an unexpected mentor who teaches etiquette to prisoners.
Jessica Savage, Michael Salazar, Cameron Gorman and Veronica Flores of KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi for their four-part coverage exposing a loophole in the law that allowed a candidate in a city runoff election to help 19 people cast their ballots and for coverage of a subsequent voter fraud investigation.
(After the submission period for the Texas Gavel Awards concluded, two women pleaded guilty to voter fraud-related charges. The case against the candidate, where the story began, is still pending.)