The Florida Bar


October 26, 2006
Francine Walker,
The Florida Bar

The Florida Bar has selected five media organizations as grand prize winners in the 51st Annual Media Awards competition to recognize excellence in legal reporting. Two other media organizations were also selected as honorable mentions. Each winner will be recognized at The Florida Bar's Reporters’ Workshop in December.

This year’s grand prize winners are The Miami Herald and The Florida Times-Union (newspapers and other periodicals with circulation more than 50,000), The Villages Daily Sun (newspapers and other periodicals with circulation less than 50,000), WTSP-TV of St. Petersburg (television), and WUSF of Tampa (radio). Honorable mentions are awarded to The Daytona Beach News-Journal and The Daily Business Review.

Each news organization will receive a plaque bearing its name, and certificates will be given to all individuals who contributed to the submissions.

When selecting this year’s winners, the judges considered such factors as the informational and educational value of the entry, the degree of difficulty of the subject matter and whether the entry disclosed practices or procedures in need of correction to encourage improvement of the legal system.

The Miami Herald received the grand prize in the category of newspapers and other periodicals with circulation more than 50,000 with three entry submissions. One submission, an investigative series about Broward Circuit Judge Eileen O'Connor, prompted the NAACP to file an ethics complaint against her with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The second submission is an investigative piece about Florida's "greenbelt law," which was created to help farmers, but has now become a lucrative tax break for developers. The third piece is about Luis Diaz, who was wrongfully convicted of a murder and set free after 26 years in prison, based on DNA evidence. Within days of Diaz's release, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered all law enforcement agencies to preserve DNA evidence that could be used by prison inmates seeking to contest their convictions.

The Florida Times-Union also received the grand prize in the category of newspapers and other periodicals with circulation more than 50,000 with two entry submissions. One submission is a two-day series on the auto repair industry, which led to legislation being introduced to increase the staffing for the state's regulatory agency. The second submission is a series of stories revealing that the 475 men in the Florida Civil Commitment Center have no way out. The center houses offenders who have served their court-imposed sentences but remain a threat to society. The extensive reporting on this subject showed readers that a well-meaning law doesn't always bring about the intended results.

The Villages Daily Sun is the grand prize winner in the category of newspapers and other periodicals with circulation less than 50,000 with one entry submission. The Daily Sun submitted a series on the Guardian Ad Litem program that serves the Fifth Judicial Circuit. The series was designed to capture the fulfillment that existing volunteers experience and provide a detailed explanation of the training and expectations prospective volunteers would encounter. The volunteerism rate soared after the series was published.

WTSP-TV is the grand prize winner in the television category. WTSP-TV submitted "Custodians of Abuse," an investigative look into what several women's rights groups say is a flaw in several Florida family courts: the granting of joint custody of children in cases where abuse is documented. The story follows one woman's tragic tale of having to share custody of her son, despite documented evidence that the boy's father was both an abusive dad and husband.

WUSF is the grand prize winner in the radio category with three entry submissions. The first submission is a piece on The Jessica Lunsford Act. The second submission is a compilation of coverage on the Terri Schiavo case, which went beyond the headlines and helped advance the discussion on end-of-life issues. The third submission is coverage of the Al-Arian trial, which helped advance the discussion of the Patriot Act.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal and The Daily Business Review were selected as honorable mentions. The Daytona Beach News-Journal submitted a series on the lives of convicted sex offenders, which prompted court officials to work on a system for dealing with them. The Daily Business Review submitted three pieces, including "Deadbeat Doctors," which found that plaintiff lawyers are increasingly reluctant to handle even catastrophic claims because as many as one-third of Florida-licensed doctors carry no malpractice insurance.

This year’s judges were David Vigilante of CNN; Daniel Fowler of The Herald News, Providence, R.I.; Lyrissa Lidsky, professor, University of Florida Levin College of Law; and attorneys Gregory Herbert, of Greenberg Traurig, P.A., and Marc Randazza, of Weston Garrou & Dewitt.

See photos of the Award Winners.

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EDITORS: Please note The Florida Bar is not an association and "Association" is not part of our name. Proper reference is "The Florida Bar." Local bar organizations are properly termed "associations."

[Revised: 09-20-2007]