For the past 37 years the Florida Bar has honored media organizations for "outstanding journalism aimed at increasing public understanding of the system of law and justice in America, particularly in Florida." In Tampa this past Saturday, New Times was presented with one of four Florida Bar Media Awards for 1991.
The statewide competition is open to all print and broadcast media. WEVU-TV of Bonita Springs won in the television category and WUSF-FM of Tampa won for radio. Two newspapers with circulations under 50,000 shared top honors: the Winter Haven News Chief and the Gadsen County Times of Quincy. New Times was the winner among publications with circulation greater than 50,000.
Submitted for the judges' consideration were six New Times stories published in 1991:
* Staff writer Sean Rowe's "The Accident, the Investigation, the Questions" (January 16) examined the unusual actions of local police following an accident in which a pedestrian was severely injured after being hit by a car. The driver of the car was Channel 7 news anchorman Rick Sanchez, who later pleaded no contest to a charge of driving while intoxicated.
* "Case Disclosed" (July 3), by staff writer William Labbee, described a long-standing Coral Gables tradition by which certain city officials receive free memberships to the Coral Gables Country Club. Subsequent to publication, prosecutors filed criminal charges against Mayor George Corrigan, Jr., commissioners Bob Hildreth and William Kerdyk, City Attorney Robert Zahner, and Police Chief Charles Skalaski. This past January the case against Kerdyk was dismissed. Prosecutors are appealing that decision. The remaining officials await trial.
* "Get Out of Jail Free" (July 10), by free-lance writer David Villano, examined the Pretrial Release Bureau, a Dade County program designed to aid indigent criminal defendants. Villano discovered a burgeoning bureaucracy with plummeting success rates and poor record-keeping.
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* "The Case From Hell," a two-part investigative project by staff writer Steven Almond (September 11 and September 18), used the prolonged and traumatic legal experiences of Drs. Andres and Lisette Nogues to portray a juvenile justice system in trouble. After publication of the articles, the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services reversed its position in the case and intervened in court to remedy admitted errors.
* William Labbee's "Forbidden Fruit" (November 6) told the story of two young men who allegedly stole fruit from a rural grove. In a subsequent car chase led by grove employees, one of the young men, Danny Donovan, suffered a gunshot wound that left him comatose. Labbee's investigation examined why authorities were unable to criminally prosecute any of the suspects.
* Staff writer Kirk Semple's "Bon Voyage!" (December 18) detailed one little-publicized aspect of Miami's cruise-ship industry: the fate of crew members injured on the job. Because nearly all shipboard employees are foreigners, U.S. labor laws do not fully apply. When accidents occur, the results can be confusing and chaotic for crew members.
As a recipient of this year's awards, New Times designated a $1000 scholarship to FIU's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.