In recognition of the important role played by the state´s news media in improving public understanding of key legal issues, The Missouri Bar annually presents its "Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards."
Three separate awards are presented by the state bar - one each for the print media, radio and television - in recognition of individual stories, series or editorials which meet one or more of the following criteria:
Media representatives are invited to identify members of the news media - either within their own organization or elsewhere - who have performed exceptional work within the general criteria outlined above. Self-nominations are also encouraged. Individual reporters or entire news organizations which have performed notable work in improving public knowledge of the legal system are eligible.
Copies of pertinent articles, audiotapes or videotapes should accompany all nominations. In addition, letters in support of nominations are encouraged. These letters should set out the content of the item(s) and indicate their significance to the citizens of their area or the state as a whole. Any follow-up or reaction to the item(s) should be summarized, as well. Final selection of the winners will be determined by the President of The Missouri Bar with the assistance of The Missouri Bar´s Executive Committee.
Incoming Missouri Bar President Erik Bergmanis presented two journalists the 2015 Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards at the 149th Annual Missouri Press Association Convention held September 12, 2015, at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Columbia, Mo.
Alan Scher Zagier of the Associated Press and Bill Freivogel of St. Louis Public Radio were presented with the awards. The awards were created by the state bar to recognize outstanding work in covering the legal world by the media. The award goes to reporters or media outlets which have contributed significantly to public understanding of the law and legal system; pointed out a problem within the law and, through their efforts, have contributed to solving the problem; or have enhanced the administration of justice in Missouri.
Alan Scher Zagier, a reporter with the Associated Press, was presented a Missouri Bar Excellence in Legal Journalism Award by Bergmanis. Zagier was recognized for his five years of coverage and extensive research which unearthed a likely Brady violation, a revelation that ultimately led the Supreme Court of Missouri to rule that Mark Woodworth - who was serving life in prison for the 1990 murder of Cathy Robertson – had not received a fair trial. In 2013, Woodworth was free on bail after 16 years in prison. In July of 2014, a special prosecutor dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Woodworth, ending a 24-year succession of trials, appeal and court rulings related to the case. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star both noted his discovery of documents in the state’s file that had not been shared with the defense were game-changing to Woodworth’s case and life.
Bill Freivogel of St. Louis Public Radio was presented with a Missouri Bar Excellence in Legal Journalism Award by Bergamanis. A three-time winner, Freivogel was recognized for a series of two dozen online articles he wrote explaining the complex legal process through the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. Freivogel’s stories covered police officer use of force, First Amendment rights of protesters, how the grand jury worked, proposed state legislation to update deadly force provisions and more. Freivogel, a member of The Missouri Bar, also incorporated knowledge from legal experts in his stories and received accolades from local and national legal experts for this thorough and accurate reporting. His online platform through St. Louis Public Radio reached a broad audience, for example, one piece had more than 110,000 pageviews and 238 comments. Bergmaniz noted his in-depth coverage of how the legal system handled the shooting of Michael Brown was unparalleled.
Freivogel has previously received the Excellence in Legal Journalism Award in an individual capacity in 2010 and for the St. Louis Beacon in 2012 for his coverage of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Each year, The Missouri Bar honors up to three journalists with the Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards. The Missouri Bar is a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving the legal profession, the law and the administration of justice for all Missourians. Created in 1944 by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, it serves all 30,000 of Missouri’s practicing attorneys. To achieve its mission, The Missouri Bar provides a wide range of services and resources to its members, as well as the media, educators and the citizens of Missouri. To learn more about The Missouri Bar, visit www.mobar.org and www.MissouriLawyersHelp.org.
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102