Stories that examined how Texas judges are elected and showed how law enforcement agencies are using the Texas Public Information Act to withhold information about deceased suspects are among the winners of the 2019 Texas Gavel Awards.
Journalists representing The Texas Tribune, KXAN-TV in Austin, KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Super Lawyers Magazine, and the Victoria Advocate were selected as winners. The Texas Gavel Awards, hosted by the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee, honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.
The winners are listed below by award category, along with descriptions of their entries:
Online-only: Emma Platoff of The Texas Tribune wins 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; 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: An investigative team that involved Josh Hinkle, Sarah Rafique, and Andrew Choat at KXAN-TV in Austin wins for an investigation that began with questions about how a teenager, detained in the back of an Austin police cruiser, obtained a gun and shot himself and developed into the discovery of 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.
Broadcast, Non-Metro: Jessica Savage of KRIS-TV Corpus Christi wins for a trio of stories following a Nueces County woman’s five-year fight to have her day in court while the defendant in the criminal case employed delaying tactics in a crowded court system.
Print, Major Metro: Steve Knopper wins for a Super Lawyers Magazine feature 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: 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. Priest’s reporting uncovered that the board’s action may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and highlighted a general lack of oversight for ports and special purpose taxing districts. Farenthold resigned from his port position in January 2019.
The State Bar of Texas features winner bios and links to the stories at texasbar.com/gavelawards.
The State Bar of Texas will present the awards to the winners on September 20 at the John Henry Faulk Awards luncheon during the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ statewide conference, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Road, in Austin. For more information or to register for the conference, visit foift.org.