The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee announced the winners of the 2019 Texas Gavel Awards during the recent Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas John Henry Faulk awards luncheon.
Presenting the awards were Martha Dickie, past president of the State Bar of Texas, and Julie Doss of the State Bar public affairs committee.
The Gavel Awards honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.
• Online-only Category: Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune
Emma Platoff of the Texas Tribune won for a series of articles that explored Texas’ system of partisan judicial elections. Among the issues she covered were: the perception, true or not, that judges are inclined to lean a certain way on the law based on their ideology; ethical issues related to seeking campaign donations from lawyers who may come before the court; the low name recognition for judicial candidates, even at the highest levels of the state’s judiciary; and the possibility for partisan sweeps that can propel inexperienced judges into office based not on qualifications but on party affiliation.
• Broadcast, Major Metro Category: Josh Hinkle, Sarah Rafique, and Andrew Choat of KXAN, Austin
This KXAN investigative team won for the series “Denied,” an investigation that began with questions about the suicide of a teenager in police custody and developed into an in-depth look at a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold the details of incidents such as this from the public and even families of the deceased for decades. As part of its investigation, KXAN researched the state’s 21 largest law enforcement agencies and found that at least 154 public information requests related to 52 in-custody deaths were denied under that loophole.
• Broadcast, Non-Metro Category: Jessica Savage, KRIS, Corpus Christi
Savage was an investigative reporter for KRIS 6 News when she reported on a woman’s five-year fight to have her day in court after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. She now works as an investigative reporter and anchor at WTOC in Savannah, Georgia. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University.
• Print, Major Metro Category: Steve Knopper, Super Lawyers Magazine, Thomson Reuters
Steve Knopper won for his Super Lawyers Magazine feature ‘You’re Just Ready’ in which seven Texas lawyers tell — in their own words — what it’s like to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Print, Non-Metro Category: Jessica Priest, Victoria Advocate
Jessica Priest of the Victoria Advocate wins for a series of stories covering the Calhoun County Port Authority after it hired former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist in May 2018. Farenthold resigned from Congress after an ethics inquiry began about allegations of sexual harassment and that he used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a staffer.
Priest’s reporting uncovered that the board’s action may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led to the newspaper filing a lawsuit against the Port Authority. Priest also highlighted a general lack of oversight for ports and special purpose taxing districts.