McCree Awards honor journalists

A Detroit Free Press team of journalists has won top honors at the State Bar of Michigan's 37th Annual Wade H. McCree Awards for the Advancement of Justice for their print/online multimedia series uncovering Wayne County's failure to pay $4 million in restitution to crime victims.

The broadcast category winner was WEIY NBC 25 for a series about Michigan's Paternity Act.

W. Anthony Jenkins, president of the State Bar of Michigan, will present the 37th annual McCree Awards at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction banquet on April 17 in East Lansing. The McCree Awards are given each year to foster greater public understanding of the inherent values of our legal and judicial system.

Detroit Free Press reporter Jim Schaefer, reporting specialist Kristi Tanner-White, and videographer and photographer Eric Seals documented the failure of Wayne County to pay crime victims nearly $4 million. Using county circuit court records, they tracked down many crime victims, some of whom were owed more than $10,000. One such victim was an 89-year-old woman who had been severely beaten in her home two years before. Though one of her attackers paid Wayne County $1,210 in restitution, the county never sent her the money. Because of the Free Press investigation, Wayne County's executive hired a consultant to bring the backlog to order. Last December, the county clerk's office finally cut checks to almost all those found by the newspaper.

Andy Hoag, from The Saginaw News, took second place in the print/online category for his coverage of an unusual plea deal made by the newspaper's former editor/publisher, Paul C. Chaffee, after he was arrested for drunken driving. The police report on the arrest noted that Chaffee boasted about having money and connections. Though Chaffee was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, with a maximum sentence of 93 days in jail, he made a plea to the civil infraction of careless driving, and only had to pay a $178 fine. Hoag's investigation prompted the Saginaw County judges to reevaluate their authority in objecting to plea deals; it also looked into the dramatic difference having a defense attorney made in sentencing outcomes of county court cases. 

The Detroit Free Press and Metro Times tied for third place in the print/online category. Free Press reporters Jennifer Dixon and Jim Schaefer won for ongoing coverage of the corruption of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration. The Free Press' 2010 coverage revealed that federal agents had been collecting evidence for years that Kilpatrick had been running a criminal enterprise from inside city hall, and that they planned to charge him under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The stories also revealed that Kilpatrick had taken bribes from at least 9 Detroit businesses.

Curt Guyette, news editor for Detroit’s Metro Times, won for his coverage of ongoing developments across Michigan in response to the vague Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The first of the stories detailed a planned medical marijuana "compassion center," a place where medical marijuana patients could buy and consume marijuana, in Detroit's Eastern Market. Subsequent stories focused on clashes between medical marijuana supporters that pushed the boundaries of the law, local governments that began drafting ordinances to restrict medical
marijuana, and law enforcement agencies that arrested users of medical marijuana for activities they still believed to be illegal.