2019 Texas Gavel Awards Winners
The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 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.
Online-only Category: Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune
Emma Platoff of the Texas Tribune wins for a series of articles that explored Texas’ system of partisan judicial elections. Among the issues she covered were: the perception, true or not, that judges are inclined to lean a certain way on the law based on their ideology; ethical issues related to seeking campaign donations from lawyers who may come before the court; the low name recognition for judicial candidates, even at the highest levels of the state's judiciary; and the possibility for partisan sweeps that can propel inexperienced judges into office based not on qualifications but on party affiliation.
Platoff covers the interaction of justice and politics for The Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She is a recent graduate of Yale University, where she worked as managing editor of the Yale Daily News. Here is her winning series:
Broadcast — Major Metro Category: Josh Hinkle, Sarah Rafique, and Andrew Choat of KXAN
This KXAN investigative team wins for Denied — an investigation that began with questions about how a teenager, detained in the back of an Austin police cruiser, obtained a gun and shot himself and developed into the discovery of a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold the details of incidents such as this from the public and even families of the deceased for decades.
As part of its investigation, KXAN researched the state’s 21 largest law enforcement agencies and found that at least 154 public information requests related to 52 in-custody deaths were denied under that loophole.
Hinkle is the executive producer of KXAN’s duPont and IRE Award-winning investigative team. He also leads the station’s political coverage as an investigative reporter and as the executive producer and host of “State of Texas,” a weekly statewide program devoted to coverage of the Texas Legislature and elections. His work on the show was honored twice with the national Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism for coverage of the women’s health debate and for an exposé on border security funding.
Rafique was an investigative reporter at KXAN when she helped report the station’s winning piece, “Denied." She is now an investigative producer at KTRK in Houston. Rafique previously worked as a reporter at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Killeen Daily Herald.
Choat is a special projects photographer at KXAN. He works with the station’s investigative team on a variety of innovative projects across multiple platforms. Before coming to Austin, he was chief photographer at KTAB in Abilene. Previously, he served as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in the United States Navy, responsible for all operational and administrative aspects of a submarine’s computer and control mechanisms used for underwater surveillance and scientific data collection.
Broadcast — Non-Metro Category: Jessica Savage, KRIS
Savage was an investigative reporter for KRIS 6 News when she reported on a woman’s five-year fight to have her day in court. She now works as an investigative reporter and anchor at WTOC in Savannah, Georgia. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University.
Print — Major Metro Category: Steve Knopper, Super Lawyers Magazine, Thomson Reuters
Steve Knopper wins for his Super Lawyers Magazine feature ‘You’re Just Ready’ in which seven Texas lawyers tell — in their own words — what it’s like to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Knopper is a regular contributor to Super Lawyers Magazine, as well as a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and author of MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson and Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Business in the Digital Age. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Fortune, New York, and more.
Print — Non-Metro Category: Jessica Priest, Victoria Advocate
Jessica Priest of the Victoria Advocate wins for a series
of stories covering the Calhoun County Port Authority after it hired
former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist in May 2018. Farenthold
resigned from Congress after an ethics inquiry began about allegations
of sexual harassment and that he used $84,000 of taxpayer money to
settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a staffer.
Priest’s reporting uncovered that the board’s action may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led to the newspaper filing a lawsuit against the Port Authority. Priest also highlighted a general lack of oversight for ports and special purpose taxing districts. She reported on the Calhoun Port Authority board’s conflicts of interest, its one-of-kind retirement plan, and a trip to Chile. Farenthold resigned from his port position in January 2019.
As a journalist at the Advocate, Priest has moved from covering the dramas playing out in South Texas courtrooms to writing about a lack of mental healthcare in the area. She now covers communities fighting for clean air and water. Her work has garnered several Texas Associated Press Managing Editors awards. Here is her 2019 winning series called “Port Politics:”