Center reporting on judiciary and juveniles wins awards

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Guillermo Ramirez did not live long enough to learn that one of the judges in his case against DuPont owned stock in the chemical company. He died last year of cancer that he and his family believed he got from a DuPont fungicide that he had applied to his strawberry fields. Now his family is wondering whether his case will be reopened due to the Center’s findings about the judge’s conflict of interest in the case. His wife, Francisca Ramirez, and children, Veronica Juan, Abdiel Ramirez and Erika Baca (clockwise from left), visit his grave in Tampa, Fla., in April 2014.

Edward Linsmier

The American Judges Association has honored two separate Center investigations with awards for excellence in reporting on the legal system.

The Center received  the National American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary, particularly for “Juris Imprudence,”  a project that uncovered 26 examples since 2010 of appeals court judges ruling  on cases in which they had a financial conflict of interest. Reporters and editors on the project included Chris Young, Reity O’Brien, Kytja Weir, Henry Kerali and John Dunbar.

A number of cases were reopened following the “Juris Imprudence” project, and prior reporting by the Center on state Supreme Courts also led to Montana judges having to disclose details about their personal financial ties.

The Center also received  the 2015 Regional American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary. The review committee specifically highlighted juvenile justice reporter Susan Ferriss’ “Juvenile Injustice”  project,  which  revealed how special-needs kids in Knox County, Tenn. juvenile court were shackled and sent to jail in connection with the  “status offense” of truancy—with no legal counsel appointed to guide them in proceedings.

A lawyer  featured in the story testified  before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. Senate investigators spoke to others in the story as well, and the piece was included in the Judiciary Committee’s record of critical material. Senators on the Judiciary Committee ultimately voted to tighten up legal loopholes that  allowed status offenders to be jailed. The legislation, the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, is still awaiting full congressional approval, but has significant bipartisan support.  In Tennessee, a new project is launching in Knox to ensure that volunteer lawyers can offer representation to truants at court.

The American Judges Association was originally founded as the National Association of Municipal Judges in 1959 at Colorado Springs, Colo. The American Gavel Award for Distinguished Reporting about the Judiciary was created to recognize the highest standards of reporting about courts and the justice system, and recognizes legal journalism at its best. 

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