2023 WINNERS OF THE PARKER THOMSON AWARDS FOR OUTSTANDING LEGAL JOURNALISM IN FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Bar recently recognized the winners of the 2023 Parker Thomson Awards for Outstanding Legal Journalism in Florida. The 2023 award recipients are represented in two categories, print and television. Award recipients receive $500 for first place; second-place honorees receive $250. All honorees and their media outlets receive plaques.
The winners were recognized during the 2023 Florida Media Conference in July sponsored by the Florida Press Association and Foundation. The awards are presented by The Florida Bar’s Media & Communications Law Committee for outstanding journalism highlighting the system of law and justice as it affects Floridians. Judges for The Parker Thomson Awards are composed of out-of-state journalists, media lawyers and media educators.
First Prize: Jay Weaver and Linda Robertson, Miami Herald, “Judge gives preliminary approval to billion dollar Surfside class-action settlement”
The Miami Herald extensively covered the lawsuit stemming from the collapse of a Surfside condo building in the summer of 2021 has resulted in a significant class-action settlement. The tragedy, which claimed 98 lives, led to a $1.02 billion settlement submitted by lawyers representing victims’ families. The agreement gained preliminary approval from Judge Michael Hanzman after extensive negotiations. Various defendants, including developers of a neighboring condo, an engineering consultant, and a law firm representing condo associations, will contribute to the settlement. Notably, security firm Securitas USA will pay the largest portion—$517.5 million. Although no responsibility was admitted, the settlement aims to resolve wrongful-death and personal-injury claims. The settlement process was expedited, impressing both the judge and the affected families.
Second Prize: John Torres, TC Palm, “Why can’t Nino Lyons get a job coaching basketball in Brevard schools?”
John Torres covered the story of the basketball player, mentor, and local civil rights leader Antonino “Nino” Lyons who was wrongfully convicted of drug conspiracy and other charges in 2001. Despite being declared “Actually Innocent” by a federal judge, he faced severe repercussions. Lyons excelled in basketball at Rockledge High School and Florida Tech, mentoring players like Jumaine Jones. His efforts to film and oppose police misconduct led to lawsuits. Prosecutors fabricated charges against him, relying on false testimony. After his release, Lyons sued the government and earned $140,000, but his reputation remains tainted. Despite his qualifications, Lyons has faced multiple rejections in his attempts to coach high school basketball teams.
First Prize: Gregory Fox and Gordon Portell, WESH, “DNA 35 Years Later”
Genetic science’s impact on solving crimes, particularly through DNA analysis, was showcased 35 years ago in an Orange County courtroom. Investigative reporter Gregory Fox revisits the landmark case where DNA evidence was first used to convict a suspect, Tommy Lee Andrews, of a 1987 rape. Andrews’ prints were found at the crime scene, but DNA matching with body fluids solidified his conviction. This case marked a significant turning point in criminal investigations, with DNA analysis becoming the gold standard for identifying perpetrators and exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. Advances in DNA technology have enabled police to cross-check samples in databases, aiding in solving both recent and cold cases
Second Prize: Gregory Fox and Gordon Portell, WESH, “Illegal Voters”
In a recent investigation, Gregory Fox from WESH 2 News reveals cases of alleged election fraud involving convicted sex offenders voting illegally in Florida. Mark Glaser, a data researcher, exposed the issue by cross-checking voter and sex offender records, highlighting numerous ineligible voters. In Seminole County, suspects including Christopher Moy were arrested and charged with election fraud after Glaser’s findings. Some counties, like Lake County, chose not to prosecute due to difficulties proving intent. The governor established an election crimes unit and announced 20 arrests, focusing on murderers and sex offenders who voted unlawfully. However, critics argue a lack of clarity in voter eligibility and verification processes. Numerous cases are under investigation.
The Parker Thomson Awards honor news stories, series, features, editorials, blogs, documentaries, columns, special sections — anything that is produced by a news organization and deals with law and lawyers, courts, law enforcement, the delivery of legal services, the effectiveness of the justice system, the work of the organized Bar or related matters. The media competition is in its 66th year. This year’s awards honored works published or produced in 2020. Thomson was a Florida attorney who, from 1968 to 1983, represented numerous prominent clients in First Amendment cases. He argued three cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo in 1974. He won that case, helping to overturn a state law that required newspapers to allocate equal space to political candidates on the editorial pages. Thomson died in 2017 at the age of 85.