ABA Honors Media Revelations About Injustice


The American Bar Association last week continued its 60-year tradition of annual media awards for legal coverage with a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

On July 17, the 2018 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts recognized outstanding work that, in the words of the bar association, "fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system."

The six major awards for categories of print and video recognized cutting-edge work on policing, Japanese American internment during World War II, the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the prison colony at Guantánamo, a murder trial, and mortgage-fraud prosecution.

“The American Bar Association (ABA) engages in a careful, deliberative judging process to pick winners of the Silver Gavel Awards,” said Stephen C. Edds, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards in announcing the awards. “We congratulate all of our 2018 awardees for their extraordinary efforts to foster the American public’s understanding of law.”

Beyond those kinds of formalities that could be spoken any year, speakers noted the backdrop of this year's ceremony: huge attacks on the reputation of legal establishment (such FBI and judicial personnel) and the news media, especially from the White House and its supporters.

akhil amar colorMedia speakers especially voiced concern over how their normal work is being undermined by savage attacks at the same time that Internet-fostered competition is creating devastating financial problems for media organizations, forcing staff and coverage reductions.

As a result, this year's awards ceremony was particularly important, according to keynote speaker Akhil Amar (right), a Yale Law School constitutional scholar and previous Silver Gavel award-winner in the book division.

In such times as these, the professor continued, the Silver Gavel process encourages in-depth and otherwise expensive reporting and commentary from many others besides award winners. The awards thus foster a much larger — and vitally necessary — eco-structure of other good work, he said.  

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Shown below are the six award-winners chosen from 19 finalists, along with four others receiving honorable mentions. An ABA  committee of 45 lawyers chose the finalists from 166 entries.


Silver Gavel: Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, by Barry Friedman.

Honorable Mention: In Praise of Litigation, by Alexandra Lahav.


Silver Gavel: And Then They Came for Us, by Ginzberg Productions.

Honorable Mention: They Call Us Monsters, by BMP Films.

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Silver Gavel: Marshall, directed and produced by Reginald Hudlin. (The poster at right shows Chadwick Boseman as the young Thurgood Marshall, an NAACP litigator in the film and future Supreme Court justice.)


Silver Gavel: “Death-Penalty Defense Drama at Guantánamo War Court,” featured in the Miami Herald.

Honorable Mention: “Secrecy Rules,” featured in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Silver Gavel: Breakdown Season 6: A Jury of His Peers, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Honorable Mention: Null and Void, by Radiolab at WNYC.


Silver Gavel: Abacus, by PBS Distribution, Frontline and ITVS.

 An ABA announcement below provides details on the specifics of the award-winners' work.


This column's author wrote a 1987 book, Spiked, critical of the press coverage of legal issues. Also, he is also a member of numerous  journalism and bar groups, including the ABA, the National Press Club and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). He studied at Yale Law School, where one his classes was co-taught by Akhil Amar. 

Kreig currently edits this project's Media News collecting of daily news items about significant developments in the media. The site's introduction, listed here, reports, "Several major media trends are seriously undermining American democracy and other quality of life issues." 


Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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American Bar Association, 2018 Silver Gavel Winners, Staff report, May 23, 2018. The American Bar Association today announced its selections for the 2018 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts, which recognize outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system. This is the ABA’s highest honor in recognition of this purpose.

The winners are:

Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, a book in which author Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University, examines the impact of 21st century law enforcement on contemporary Americans and makes the case for democratic policing — the idea that the people should take responsibility for policing. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

And Then They Came for Us, a documentary that tells the story of the forced incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II that resulted from President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. Credits: Abby Ginzberg, Producer and Co-Director; and Ken Schneider, Editor and Co-Director.

Marshall, a feature-film dramatization of the 1941 Bridgeport, Conn., rape trial of African-American chauffeur Joseph Spell, who was defended by the young NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer Thurgood Marshall and local attorney Sam Friedman. Credits: Writers Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff; Director and Producer Reginald Hudlin; Producers Paula Wagner and Jonathan Sanger.

Death-Penalty Defense at Guantánamo War Court, a series of Miami Herald newspaper articles by Military Affairs reporter Carol Rosenberg comprehensively covering the “war court” or military commissions established to prosecute detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Additional credit: Dave Wilson, Miami Herald senior editor..

Breakdown Season 6: A Jury of His Peers, a radio podcast that takes listeners on a journey inside an Atlanta double murder trial  — from investigation to jury selection to the presentations of the parties to verdict — as well as to the jury room and back again. Credits: Kevin Riley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor-in-chief; Legal Affairs Writer Bill Rankin; Senior Editor Richard Halicks; and Audience Specialist Peter Corson.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” a PBS television documentary about the five-year legal battle of the owners of a New York City Chinatown savings and loan charged with mortgage fraud — the only U.S. bank to be prosecuted following the 2008 financial crisis. Credits: PBS Distribution, Frontline and ITVS; Mitten Media, Motto Pictures and Kartemquin Films Production. Director Steve James; and Producers Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman.

The ABA has awarded Silver Gavels every year since 1958.

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New York banker-lawyer Thomas Sung, focus of the film "Abacus," with his two daughters

Kartemquin Films, Abacus wins the ABA Silver Gavel Award, Staff report, May 23, 2018. Academy Award-nominated Abacus: Small Enough to Jail was announced today as the recipient of the 2018 American Bar Association Award for Media and the Arts in the television category. 

Since its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Abacus has earned a Peabody Award nomination, three Critics' Choice Documentary Awards nominations –– winning Best Documentary – as well as a nomination for Steve James by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directing. The film also earned the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sarasota Film Festival and Best Editing: Feature Length Documentary at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.

chadwick boseman marshall movie SmallHartford Courant, Bridgeport Lawyer Turns Screenwriter To Tell Compelling Story Of 'Marshall,' Susan Dunne, Oct. 5, 2018. Years before Thurgood Marshall persuaded the United States Supreme Court to outlaw school segregation, years before he became a member of the Supreme Court himself, he founded the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In that capacity, he traveled all over the country giving legal assistance to criminal defendants in racially charged cases.

In 1940 and 1941, that job brought him to Bridgeport to defend an accused man in a case that grabbed headlines then but is largely forgotten today. A movie being released nationwide on Oct. 13 — "Marshall" — will bring The State of Connecticut vs. Joseph Spell back into the spotlight.

Moviegoers have Bridgeport attorney Michael Koskoff to thank for that. Koskoff, a principal at Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, started writing the screenplay to "Marshall" about nine years ago. He is excited to shine a light on an early episode in the battle for racial equality.

"Most young people think the Civil Rights movement started with Martin Luther King Jr. But it was going on for years before that," Koskoff says. "Thurgood Marshall was fighting the battle in a different form.

ABA 2018 Silver Gavel Keynote Speaker

akhil amar color Akhil Reed Amar, shown at right, is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law in both Yale College and Yale Law School. In 1984 Amar clerked for then Judge (now Justice) Stephen Breyer and joined the Yale faculty the following year. He regularly testifies before Congress at the invitation of both parties.

In surveys of judicial citations and/or scholarly citations, Amar invariably ranks among America’s five most-cited mid-career legal scholars. He has been cited by Supreme Court justices across the spectrum in 35 cases. Amar is the author of six books and dozens of articles. America’s Constitution: A Biography, published by Random House, received the 2006 ABA Silver Gavel Award for Books. The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale University Press) earned an ABA Silver Gavel Award Honorable Mention in 1999.

His most recent book is The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era (Basic Books, 2016) Amar is also the author of The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic (Basic Books, 2015), America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By (Basic Books, 2012), and The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles (Yale University Press, 1997).

He has also written widely for such newspapers and magazines as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and The Atlantic. Amar was an informal consultant to the NBC TV political drama “The West Wing,” and his constitutional scholarship has been showcased on “The Colbert Report,” “The O’Reilly Factor,” and the PBS series “Constitution USA with Peter Sagal,” which received a 2014 ABA Gavel Award Honorable Mention for Television.

Amar earned a BA, majoring in History and Economics, in 1980 from Yale College and his JD in 1984 from Yale Law School, where he served as editor of The Yale Law Journal.