2021 Texas Gavel Awards Winners

The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Texas Gavel Awards. The awards honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system. For more information about the award rules and eligibility requirements go here.

Print—Major Metro Category: Michael Hall, Texas Monthly

KXAN’s Catalyst team—Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Arezow Doost, Chris 



Nelson, Eric Henrikson, Robert Sims, and Rachel Garza
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.

Hall graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979 with a degree in government. In 1997 he joined Texas Monthly. He has won three Texas Gavel Awards from the State Bar of Texas and four Stephen Philbin Awards from the Dallas Bar Association. Hall was named the City and Regional Magazine Association’s Writer of the Year in 2015. His stories have appeared in The Best American Magazine Writing, The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Da Capo Best Music Writing, the New York Times, and Men’s Journal. Hall is also a musician and has played in Austin bands the Wild Seeds, the Setters, the Lollygaggers, and the Savage Trip.

Read his winning submissions:

Print—Non-Metro Category: Emilie Eaton, San Antonio Express-News

KXAN’s Catalyst team—Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Arezow Doost, Chris 



Nelson, Eric Henrikson, Robert Sims, and Rachel Garza
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.

Eaton covers the legal system and how it affects ordinary people. Some of her stories have delved into family violence, police use of force, and police disciplinary issues. Previously, Eaton worked for two years at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Her work has been honored in the Hearst National Journalism Awards and by the Society of Professional Journalists, among others.

Read her winning submissions:

Broadcast—Major Metro Category: The Catalyst Team, KXAN

KXAN’s Catalyst team—Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Arezow Doost, Chris 



Nelson, Eric Henrikson, Robert Sims, and Rachel Garza
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 state hospital to obtain the help they need to address the criminal charges before them. The project highlights the stories of the families caught up in what they say is a broken system.

Catalyst is a specialty unit within the KXAN investigative team focused on digital-first storytelling that aims to make a positive change in society. The group takes a multi-platform, innovative approach to each project and rotates among various investigators. 

View the team’s winning submission:

 Online-Only Category: Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune

KXAN’s Catalyst team—Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Arezow Doost, Chris 



Nelson, Eric Henrikson, Robert Sims, and Rachel Garza
Emma Platoff, formerly of The Texas Tribune, wins her third-consecutive Texas Gavel Award with 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.

Platoff was a reporter at The Texas Tribune from June 2017 to January 2021, covering the law and its intersections with politics. A New Haven, Connecticut native and Yale graduate, Platoff is the former managing editor of the Yale Daily News. She is now a politics reporter at the Boston Globe.

Read her winning submission:

No award was given in the Broadcast—Non-Metro Category

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