TALLAHASSEE, Florida – 10 News was among the media outlets honored at the 59th Annual Florida Bar Media Awards for its ongoing series, "Short Yellows and the Red Light Fight." The series, which exposed abuses of red light camera technology, was recognized for "outstanding journalism highlighting the system of law and justice as it affects Floridians."
"This year's entries consisted of print and broadcast formats and covered a wide range of legal topics from compliance with open government laws to high profile court cases," says Media Awards Committee Chair Samuel J. Morley, general counsel for the Florida Press Association in Tallahassee. "All the entries did a good job of increasing the public's understanding but few rose to the top of the list with hard-hitting, but fair and creative reporting."
"Short Yellows and the Red Light Fight"
WTSP-TV 10 News' "Short Yellows and the Red Light Fight" exposed red light camera abuses in Florida. According to investigative reporter Noah Pransky, "The first of our more than 40 stories showed how the state changed a little-known law to allow shorter yellow lights, thus creating millions of dollars in extra red light fines. Our story compelled the state to backtrack and mandate longer (yellow) lights at every single intersection in Florida." Media Awards judge Julian Miller calls it "the best of all the entries." The former Georgia newspaper publisher says, "I was blown away by the red light piece. It helped to change something. It was extremely well done."
The Tampa Bay Times was honored for its investigation into the "Work Release" program for nonviolent offenders in Florida. "Work release programs are based on the premise of good supervision," says reporter Curtis Krueger. "If the state promises nearby residents that work release centers are for non-violent offenders — and then sends in murderers — something is wrong." Krueger and fellow staff writer Kameel Stanley uncovered this problem while covering a tragedy. A work release inmate from the Largo center was arrested (and later convicted) for killing two men in St. Petersburg. The reporters dug deeper and found hundreds of violent offenders in work release centers statewide, including 20 murderers. Almost all had permission to walk to work, visit family and go to medical appointments without supervision. "The state Department of Corrections defended this practice, but five days after we wrote about it, the DOC reversed itself and sent all murderers back to prison."
"Diversity in the Judiciary"
The Ocala Star-Banner was recognized for "Diversity in the Judiciary." The impending retirement of Sandra Edwards-Stephens, an African-American judge in the 5th Judicial Circuit, prompted the newspaper to "take an in-depth look at our circuit to determine just how diverse our judiciary really was." The results, they say, were surprising. Marion is the largest of five counties in the 5th Judicial Circuit, with a population of more than 300,000. When she was first elected as a county court judge in 1990, and again in 2000, when she was appointed as a circuit judge, Edwards-Stephens was the only black person in either position and one of few women. Upon her departure, she left behind 30 circuit judges in the 5th and 11 county judges – some women, but no other minorities. According to staff writer April Warren, the Star-Banner sought to shine a light on the facts while explaining possible reasons for the lack of diversity and how the process works. She explains, "As a result of the story, the local chapter of the NAACP also became involved in lobbying the 5th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission to keep diversity in mind when selecting qualified candidates."
"Insights from retiring prosecutor"
WGCU Public Media received Honorable Mention for "Assistant U.S. Attorney Retires after 22 Years." FM station manager and news director Amy Tardif first met Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy when she was a cub reporter for a Fort Myers TV station in the early 1990s. Her newsroom had received a tip that Lee County's tax collector Dick Steele had been arrested on charges including embezzlement. He would later plead guilty. Twenty-four years later in the interview about his retirement, Tardif learned that the tip had come from Molloy. Tardif says she was given plenty of juicy stories at the TV station that she can now thank Molloy for – from white collar crime to prosecuting human traffickers. "He was always the prosecutor to watch and scribble down quotes from in the courtroom." When Molloy retired in 2013, "He spent a half-hour on our talk show being interviewed about all of the topics he was never able to talk publicly about as a federal prosecutor." Media Awards judges felt the entry was informative and offered significant insight into the legal system.
The awards judges were media lawyers Judy Mercier of Holland & Knight LLP, Orlando; Dwayne Robinson of Hogan Lovells, Miami; Teresa Ponte, chair and associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Florida International University, Miami; Lenita Wesson, news anchor, WMDT/ABC-47, Salisbury, Md., and Julian Miller, public affairs administrator for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, Savannah, Ga.
Information from the Florida Bar was used in this report.