CRAIG WATERS WINS SUSAN SPENCER-WENDEL LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
TALLAHASSEE – Craig Waters, former communications director of the Florida Supreme Court, who retired in February after 35 years of service, received the Susan Spencer-Wendel Award for Lifetime Achievement on Friday from The Florida Bar Media and Communications Law Committee for his contributions in support of transparency and public access to the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida court system.
Spencer-Wendel was a longtime Palm Beach Post courts reporter who died in 2014 from ALS. She received a lifetime achievement award from The Florida Bar in 2012 and numerous media awards throughout her career.
Waters began his career at the Supreme Court as a staff attorney for Justice Rosemary Barkett in 1987 before moving into managerial work under Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, who asked Waters to create the Florida Supreme Court’s first communications office. Prior to attending the University of Florida School of Law, Waters worked as a reporter covering courts and state government in Pensacola and Tallahassee for the Gannett newspapers. Waters is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and a native of Pensacola.
Under Kogan, Waters created the Florida Supreme Court’s first website in 1994 and in 1996 he started the Public Information Office at the Florida Supreme Court. Among his accomplishments, he advocated for online access to public court records starting in 1994 and broadcasting livestreams of Supreme Court oral arguments starting in 1996 when these techniques still were novel. He also used social media to distribute the Court’s news and information and founded the statewide nonprofit professional organization for court communications staff, known today as the Florida Court Public Information Officers, Inc.
Waters’ career at the court led Florida’s judicial branch to the forefront of transparency and openness in the nation. Waters is most recognized for his role during Florida’s recount of the 2000 presidential election vote and the litigation surrounding it, when he made public announcements on worldwide television and livestreams over the 36-day period of litigation in the cases now known as Bush v. Gore.
Waters said he is proudest of the public transparency created as the world watched Florida’s 36-day presidential election lawsuits in the fall of 2000.
“The two main ideas of open government I had advocated – placing court documents on the web and livestreaming oral argument broadcasts worldwide from start to finish – were on full display during that period,” Waters said. “And they were a clear success. We often forget today that these ideas were not widely accepted by American courts beforehand.”
For four years after the 2000 presidential election cases, Waters traveled around the nation training court and Bar staff on emerging techniques to meet the challenge of global press attention in high-profile cases using online media.
About The Florida Bar
Founded in 1949, The Florida Bar serves the legal profession for the protection and benefit of both the public and all Florida lawyers. As one of the nation’s largest mandatory bars, The Florida Bar fosters and upholds a high standard of integrity and competence within Florida’s legal profession as an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court. To learn more, visit FloridaBar.org.