Winners announced for 2016 James Madison Freedom of Information Awards

Winners announced for 2016 James Madison
Freedom of Information Awards

Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee to host 31th Annual awards dinner on March 10, 2016 The City Club in San Francisco

For Immediate Release
Contact: spjfoic@gmail.com

The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards recognize Northern California organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and/or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment. SPJ NorCal traditionally presents the awards during National Freedom of Information Week near Madison’s birthday, March 16.

General Counsel of CalAware Joseph Terry Francke, known for his more than 35 years of legal advocacy in the service of public access, wins the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement. Over the course of his career, Francke drafted the Reporter’s Handbook on Media Law, pushed for the reform of the Ralph M. Brown Act, and championed an amendment to the California constitution to ensure government transparency. Francke’s award is named in memory of Norwin Yoffie, the former editor of the San Rafael Independent Journal, a co-founder of SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee, and a staunch advocate for transparency. Francke will be honored along with other winners of the chapter’s James Madison Freedom of Information Awards on Thursday, March 10, 2016 at the City Club in San Francisco.

Tickets for the 2015 dinner are $55 for SPJ members,$75 for non-members, $50 for students and can be purchased via eventbrite. Table and bar sponsorships are available. The evening will feature silent auctions for wine and books as well as raffles. The City Club is located at 155 Sansome Street in San Francisco. The festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a no-host bar. Contact the Freedom of Information Committee for more information: spjfoic@gmail.com.

In addition to Francke, this year’s honorees are:

The Sacramento News and Review, the Ferndale Enterprise, and the Bay Area News Group will receive awards in the News Organization category. The Sacramento News and Review is honored for its legal battle to obtain Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s emails. The Ferndale Enterprise and its editor, Caroline Titus, settled a First Amendment civil rights lawsuit after attempted censorship by the Humboldt County Fair Association. Bay Area News Group has demonstrated a rigorous commitment to transparency with successful lawsuits to win access to the appointment calendars of two indicted state senators and records from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District showing officials knew a teacher had shown the “potential for child abuse” years before he was arrested on molestation charges.

PublicResource.org, Mother Jones, and The Freedom of the Press Foundation win Non-Profit Awards. PublicResource.org achieved a landmark FOIA victory that will require the IRS to make all 990 tax returns public and machine-readable. Mother Jones risked bankruptcy to fight an unwarranted defamation lawsuit by a billionaire and defend the fundamental rights of a free press. In December, The Freedom of the Press Foundation launched a fund to support freedom of information lawsuits by local journalists against police departments and city halls around the country. FPF is the developer of SecureDrop, an anonymous online submission system for submitting tips to news organizations adopted by outlets including Gawker, the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Sun in 2015, following deployments at The Guardian, the Washington Post, the Project on Government Oversight and other outlets the previous year.

Matt Drange of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Mary Duan and Sara Rubin of the Monterey County Weekly will receive Journalist Awards. Drange published a series of gun-related public interest stories in 2015, revealing violations of state ethics law for elected officials, disparities among concealed handgun permits issued by county governments and loopholes in California law that allow guns to be transferred with lax oversight and other stories, all based on documents or data obtained via the California Public Records Act.

Duan and Rubin exposed the decades-long cover-up of child molestation allegations in the Diocese of Monterey. The reporters fought an expensive, nearly 18-month legal battle to unseal records in an alleged victim’s lawsuit against Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry, who left the priesthood in 2013 following an undisclosed payout from the diocese. Duan and Rubin’s story uncovered evidence that the diocese knowingly kept a troubled priest in positions of authority with access to children, ignored a mother’s complaints that Fitz-Henry acted bizarrely around her children, and that a former police detective who believed sex acts occurred between the plaintiff and Fitz-Henry and identified other victims unknown to police changed his testimony. The story received national attention; it also resulted in Monterey being added—post-production—to a list of cities where verified accusations against priests had occurred in the film Spotlight.

The Friends of Ethics will be honored with the Citizen Award. Friends of Ethics is a group of community members that has advocated successfully for new open government laws that spotlight corporate influence and finance in local politics.

Darrell Whitman wins the Whistleblower Award. When Whitman, an investigator in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Whistleblower Protection Program, called attention to whistleblower claims that were being ignored, his files were seized and he was later fired. After being penalized for defending whistleblowers, Whitman is now pursuing a whistleblower retaliation claim of his own against OSHA.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi will receive the Public Official Award. Adachi has demonstrated a continued commitment to public transparency by exposing an inmate fighting ring run by guards in San Francisco’s jail, releasing videos of police misconduct to the public, and advocating for public disclosure in the San Francisco Police Department’s body camera policy.

UC Berkeley lecturer and Bay Area News Group investigative reporter Thomas Peele wins the Beverly Kees Educator Award. Peele has taught a course on public records at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for the past six years, empowering students with expertise and practical advice derived from the nearly 1,000 public records requests he files each year. The class was designed by former Kees Award winner and retired journalism professor Rob Gunnison and legendary journalism professor and investigative reporter Paul Grabowitz, who died in December. Peele is also co-chair of the Freedom of Information committee, whose members hid the nomination and deliberation over it from him.

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism investigative reporting fellow Jason Paladino wins the Student Award. Paladino’s investigative work, which he began as a student, resulted in an NBC Nightly News story entitled “Sea Dragon Down, The Human Cost of the Navy’s Most Crash-prone Chopper.” Beginning with Navy data, Paladino found that the Navy used the Cold War-era Sea Dragon helicopter for years, despite lacking proper maintenance and replacement parts. Records showed the Sea Dragon was frequently involved in crashes and fires, costing sailors their lives.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Nicole Ozer is honored with the Lawyer Award. Ozer spent three years pushing the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act through the State Legislature, garnering support from major technology companies and a neutral stance from law enforcement agencies.

Please visit spjnorcal.org for information about past award winners. For additional information about the awards, winners, or awards dinner, please email the SPJ NorCal FOI Committee at spjnorcalfoi@gmail.com.