2017 Texas Gavel Awards Winners

The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 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: Patrick Michels

Patrick Michels

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer wins with “Who Guards the Guardians,” an in-depth look at the vast and complex system of guardianship cases across the state. While Michels found guardianships in Texas grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015, his reporting concluded that in much of the state oversight is lacking to ensure guardianship isn’t being used as a tool for abuse or theft.

Michels is a reporter for Reveal, covering consumer finance, education, and criminal justice. Previously, he was a staff writer at the Texas Observer and the Dallas Observer. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Michels is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Print, Non-Metro: Natalia Contreras, Krista M. Torralva

Natalia Contreras and Krista M. Torralva of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times win for part of the paper’s “Behind Broken Doors” series that explored the city’s deadly domestic violence problem, revealed flaws in the justice system, and sparked action.

The stories that comprise the winning series are:
“Gone Before Her Time”
“Please, We’re Begging You”
“Domestic Violence Policy Changed”


Torralva, formerly the Caller-Times’ courts reporter, is a reporter on the Orlando Sentinel’s breaking news team. She was a leader of the “Behind Broken Doors” series that explored domestic violence in Corpus Christi.


Contreras is a breaking news and general assignment reporter. She was born in Mexico and moved to Corpus Christi in 2002. For two years, Contreras has been covering crime and writing about the things and people who make up the Coastal Bend for the Caller-Times.

Broadcast, Major Metro: Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Brian Collister, Ben Friberg, Joe Ellis and Chad Cross

KXAN-TV’s Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Brian Collister, Ben Friberg, Joe Ellis, and Chad Cross win with “Border Splurge: Texas’ Billion-Dollar Drug War,” a nine-month series that analyzed 32,000 border arrest records. The reporting concluded that despite a $1.6 billion commitment of taxpayer dollars, few of those arrested on the border are considered to be high-threat criminals. The team reported that accounts from local law enforcement and drug seizures indicate drugs are still making their way across the border and into Central Texas. KXAN’s video has an accompanying web package.


Josh Hinkle is an executive producer of in-depth and investigative content. In addition to leading KXAN’s investigative team, Hinkle also heads up the station’s political coverage as an investigative reporter and as the executive producer and host of State of Texas, a weekly, two-time Cronkite Award-winning program devoted to coverage of the Texas Legislature and elections. His recent investigative work has also revealed millions of dollars in emergency flood funding misplaced by state agencies and a failed system meant to put seat belts on school buses.


David Barer is KXAN’s digital expert when it comes to investigations. He uses his data analysis skills and digital tricks to illustrate some of the team’s biggest discoveries. His work has recovered millions of dollars to thousands of people wrongfully taxed for years by a local utility. His reporting also revealed three decades of possible missteps by a medical examiner and an overwhelming autopsy count likely fueled by a financial incentive.


Brian Collister is an investigative reporter. His investigations into fraud, corruption, and government waste have resulted in the criminal convictions of public officials, passage of new laws, and embezzled public funds being returned to taxpayers. His work was recently part of a DuPont and IRE Award-winning project, exposing evidence that law enforcement was misreporting the race of minority motorists during traffic stops, likely skewing the agencies’ racial profiling reports.


Ben Friberg is an investigative photographer born and raised in Central Texas. Friberg knows the area like the back of his hand, giving him a unique investigative edge to visualize the team’s reports. His skills have uncovered new clues in cold case murder mysteries and taken viewers inside dental offices amid statewide concerns over anesthesia deaths.


Joe Ellis, now an executive investigative producer at KVUE, has decades of investigative coverage under his belt in several Texas television markets. Ellis dedicates his energy to analyzing data, backgrounding criminals, and digging for access to important public documents. His skills help mine the biggest investigations in the Austin area, including the arrest of a woman who stole money meant for a grieving family and the discovery of big businesses wrongfully taking advantage of tax loopholes.


Chad Cross, KXAN’s news director, has led the news team to dominate television ratings in the Austin market since he stepped into the role in 2012. Under his leadership, the station has earned Emmy and Murrow awards for its breaking news and investigative coverage, in addition to a handful of national honors. A graduate of the University of Texas, Cross worked the previous decade in Wichita, Kansas, at KWCH as a reporter, anchor, producer, and assignment editor before becoming news director.

No awards were given in the Broadcast, Non-Metro and Online categories. 

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