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July 6, 2021
Contact: Amy Starnes
Public Information Director, State Bar of Texas
800-204-2222, ext. 1706, or 512-427-1706

Winners of the 2021 Texas Gavel Awards

AUSTIN—Stories that critically examined the Texas criminal justice system’s treatment of the mentally ill and inmates regarded as innocent are among the winners of the 2021 Texas Gavel Awards.

Journalists representing Texas Monthly, The Texas Tribune, San Antonio Express-News, and Austin’s KXAN-TV were selected as winners of the 2021 awards. The Texas Gavel Awards, hosted by the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee, honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system. An independent panel of out-of-state journalists, editors, and journalism professors judged the entries.

The winners are listed below by award category, along with descriptions of their work. The State Bar of Texas features journalist bios and links to the winning entries at

Print—Major Metro: Michael Hall, of Texas Monthly, wins with his two-story submission examining the concept of innocence in criminal court proceedings. Hall spent months investigating the cases of Rosa Jimenez and Lydell Grant in two separate longform articles for the magazine. In both stories, Hall writes about how the Texas system grapples with inmates who almost everyone involved in the case believes are innocent and ponders what “innocence” really means in a system where the definition is sometimes the difference between life and death.

Print—Non-Metro: Emilie Eaton, of the San Antonio Express-News, wins for a collection of three stories that illustrate how the legal system impacted ordinary San Antonians’ lives in 2020 as historic protests across the country reignited debate about criminal justice reforms.

Broadcast—Major Metro: KXAN’s Catalyst team—Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Arezow Doost, Chris Nelson, Eric Henrikson, Robert Sims, and Rachel Garza—wins for their submission “Locked in Limbo.” This is the fourth win in eight years for KXAN reporters. “Locked in Limbo” examines the cases of mentally ill men and women deemed incompetent to stand trial who wait in county jails—sometimes for more than a year—for a spot in a state hospital to obtain the help they need to address their criminal charges. The project highlights the stories of the families caught up in what they say is a broken system.

Online-Only: Emma Platoff, formerly of The Texas Tribune, wins her third-consecutive Texas Gavel Award with “Speaking Statistically,” the story of Salem Abraham, who after losing a case before the Texas Supreme Court set out to mathematically test his belief that campaign contributions could influence the elected justices. The story explores concerns—perceived or real—with Texas’ partisan judicial elections.

No award was given in the broadcast—non-metro category.

The State Bar of Texas will present the awards to the winners on September 24 at the John Henry Faulk Awards luncheon during the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ statewide conference at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin. For more information or to register for the conference, visit

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The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas that provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system. For more information, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @statebaroftexas, like us on Facebook at, or visit

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