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July 19, 2012

Silver Gavel Awards Honor Media and Arts that Broaden Understanding of Legal System

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III

Media professionals who explored challenging legal issues involving the death penalty, women’s rights, mental health and human rights were recognized by the _ with Silver Gavel Awards for creating outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system.

The 55th presentation of the Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts took place Tue., July 17, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The 2012 winners are:

“The Silver Gavel Awards are one of our association’s most important and valued annual traditions,” said ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, who congratulated the winners for their in-depth work in enhancing the understanding of legal issues.

Robinson added that the award’s rich history includes winners such as Sidney Lumet’s classic jury room drama, 12 Angry Men,; the movie To Kill a Mockingbird; NPR’s coverage of the Watergate political scandal on “All Things Considered”; and the Documentary Group’s 23-minute film A Call to Act, about Lilly Ledbetter’s fight for fair pay through the federal courts and Congress.

Clarence Page

Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune

Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune was the featured speaker and called the award winners his new role models because of the depth and care they took in telling real stories. “You’ve really come forth with some terrific products of your labor, and I applaud you,” Page said.

Video of Page’s speech can be found here.

He paid tribute to his friend William Raspberry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for the Washington Post who died early Tuesday. “He was so inspirational in so many ways,” Page said. “He called himself a solutionist. Bill cared about solutions. He said it’s not what’s right or left — he was a voice of reason.”

Page encouraged the honorees to do what Raspberry emphasized to young journalists: to remember the people they are writing about and to care about them in their storytelling.

During the speech, Page talked about the various role models in his life, including Raspberry, Carl T. Rowan, Martin Luther King Jr. and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Although Marshall had numerous achievements in his life, at his retirement announcement, Page said he asked him how he wanted to be remembered, and Marshall replied with the now-memorable quote, “He did the best he could with what he had.”

It was from Marshall’s legacy that Page offered his own advice: “Whatever you’ve got, do the best you can with it. Do what you can.”

ABA President Robinson presented four Silver Gavels and two of the seven honorable mentions from the nearly 200 entries received in all eligible categories, which include books, newspapers, magazines, commentary, documentaries, drama and literature, radio, television, and websites.

Andrew Cohen, contributing editor and national correspondent at The Atlantic

Andrew Cohen, contributing editor and national correspondent at The Atlantic

Cohen, whose 10-column series “The Death Penalty in America” on The Atlantic website last year won in the commentary category. He said he continues to write about issues involving capital punishment.

“It’s a subject that is worth the time,” Cohen said while receiving his award. “My general philosophy is really easy to sum up. If you’re going to do it, you got to do it right. So far, we haven’t been able to prove that we can do it right, so we probably shouldn’t be doing it.”

Cohen added, “If you don’t put in the effort as a legislature, or a judge, or a lawyer, or a witness to make an accurate assessment of a particular crime, you are going to get these sorts of stories [where people are wrongfully put to death]. Even though they are heartbreaking for the victims and family members, they are heartbreaking on another level as well.”

Receiving the gavel in the documentary category for Women, War & Peace: I Came to Testify, a film in a five-hour PBS series, was filmmaker Pamela Hogan. The film focuses on the first time an international tribunal considers rape as a crime against humanity. Bosnian Serbs were found guilty of raping Muslim women in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. In the film, there are interviews with witnesses and the three female prosecutors who helped facilitate the case.

“As soon as we went to Bosnia and met the women who were featured in the film, we dropped the word victim from our vocabulary, and the word victim never came up again,” said Hogan after accepting her award. “They are incredibly courageous and resilient women who have lost everything and are still fighting against impunity in their own country because although this was a precedent for international law, most women who survived what they survived in Bosnia have not had a chance to go to court yet.”

Accepting the Silver Gavel in the newspaper category for “Imminent Danger” was Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The two-part series goes to the source of the lawsuit that led to the revision of the nation’s mental-health commitment laws. The series explains why it was significant to change legal standards and rights for the mentally ill.

Kissinger said her research revealed how important it is for people to pay attention to those around them who may be struggling with mental-health issues. “It’s as simple as it can be, but as true as it can be,” she said. “We really need to look out for one another, and no newspaper article or documentary or law is going to help that — just common sense and a good heart.”

Franklin and Peter Morrill, general manager of Idaho Public Television, accepted the Silver Gavel in the television category for the piece The Color of Conscience: Human Rights in Idaho, which aired on Idaho Public Television. The program focused on the dismantling of Aryan Nations, a white supremacist neo-Nazi organization, by a group of human rights activists. The program also addresses diversity in Idaho and reasons to always oppose messages of hate.

Franklin said the program would not have been possible without the 10-year support of her station.

“In recognizing The Color of Conscience, you’re really recognizing the victims of human rights abuses who come forward to law enforcement and to journalists like myself,” she said. “You’re also honoring all the lawyers who work everyday on these often incendiary issues for little or no pay, and several of them are in the documentary. And you’re honoring civil rights leaders.”

Franklin accepted the award in honor of John Purce, a human rights advocate who died in May and had worked diligently to eradicate hate groups in Idaho.

Brandon L. Garrett, the author of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, and Quinn O’Toole, editor at National Public Radio for the series “Rising Violence in California’s Psychiatric Hospitals” accepted honorable mention awards in the categories of books and radio.

Selection criteria for the Silver Gavel awards include: how the entry addresses the Gavel Awards’ purpose and objectives; educational value of legal information; impact on, or outreach to, the public; thoroughness and accuracy in presentation of issues; creativity and originality in approach to subject matter; effectiveness of presentation; and demonstrated technical skill in the entry’s production.

The association has presented these awards annually since 1958. The 18-member Standing Committee on Gavel Awards, chaired by Sheila Slocum Hollis of Washington, D.C., makes final award decisions.

The following is a complete list of winners with a link to their work:



“The Death Penalty in America”
The Atlantic
Andrew Cohen, contributing editor and national correspondent


Women, War & Peace: I Came to Testify
THIRTEEN and Fork Films in association with WNET and ITVS
Pamela Hogan, series co-creator and executive producer/producer/writer
Gini Reticker and Abigail E. Disney, series co-creators/series executive producers
Nina Chaudry, series senior producer
Andrew Fredericks, editor
Jessie Beauchaine, associate producer


“Imminent Danger”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Meg Kissinger, reporter


The Color of Conscience: Human Rights in Idaho
Idaho Public Television
Marcia Franklin, producer/writer/host
Jay Krajic, videographer/editor



Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong
Brandon L. Garrett, author
Harvard University Press

Habeas Corpus After 9/11: Confronting America’s New Global Detention System
Jonathan Hafetz, author
New York University Press


Scenes of a Crime
New Box Productions
Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh, producers/directors
Robert DeMaio, editor
Michael Kowalski, sound mix


“Deadly Force: When Las Vegas Police Shoot, and Kill”
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lawrence Mower, staff writer
Alan Maimon, special correspondent
Brian Haynes, staff writer
John Locher, photographer
James G. Wright, project editor


Rising Violence in California’s Psychiatric Hospitals
National Public Radio
Ina Jaffe, correspondent
Quinn O’Toole, editor


“NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Policing for Profit”
WTVF-TV, Nashville
Phil Williams, chief investigative reporter
Kevin Wisniewski, producer
Bryan Staples and Iain Montgomery, producers/photojournalists


The Justia team, Mountain View, Calif.                                                                                                       

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