State Bar pays tribute to winners of McCree awards

Four teams have won top honors in the State Bar of Michigan 41st Annual Wade H. McCree Jr. Awards for the Advancement of Justice.

The first McCree Award was given to a Michigan Radio team, including Jennifer Guerra, Sarah Alvarez and Sarah Hulett. Their series, called "Finding Home: A Documentary about Foster Care in Michigan," investigated improvements made to Michigan's foster care system, which oversees the care of over 13,000 children and has been under federal oversight since 2008.

The series of reports introduced listeners to the system by examining the lives of the Kley family, who adopted three foster children.

The reports also expanded in scope to inform and educate listeners about the difficult situations faced by the children in the foster care system and the role of the law and the courts in the system, a general overview of the state's child welfare system as well as suggestions to improve it. The second McCree Award was bestowed upon Detroit Free Press reporters Nathan Bomey, John Gallagher and Mark Stryker for a special report about Detroit's bankruptcy, called "How Detroit Was Reborn."

The piece, marking the end of months of Free Press coverage of the historic bankruptcy, told the backstory of the behind-the-scenes conversations and deals that ended in Detroit's Grand Bargain.

A companion story profiled bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and the role he played keeping the city's survival in the spotlight as negotiations ensued.

The third McCree Award went to a team of WDET journalists, including Joan Isabella, Sandra Svoboda and Courtney Hurtt, for the website, NextChapterDetroit.com, and a series of broadcast reports and open community forums on Detroit's historic bankruptcy case.

The journalists at WDET and NextChapterDetroit.com created a community resource about a complex topic that delivered breaking news about developments in the proceedings and daily updates about events in and around the courtroom.

The fourth McCree Award was given to MLive Media Group reporter Brad Devereaux for a series, "Small Town, Big Problems," that chronicled a number of legal actions involving a small town police chief and an unorthodox program to raise tens of thousands of dollars in unregulated funds.

The alleged pay-to-play scheme has resulted in a small Saginaw County village of less than 300 residents having 100 reservist officers. The series examined the role and processes of local village government, local public policy issues, the role of courts in reviewing the actions of local government officials and how local police agencies interact with state agencies.

An Honorable Mention Award went to Detroit News reporter Mike Martindale for a story, "Judge on leave to quit after re-election," that brought to light a deal worked out among court officials to allow a district judge suspected of improper behavior in his official position to seek re-election and then quietly retire from the court system.

Martindale uncovered emails indicating that city, court and state officials knew of the scandal and agreed to keep it from voters.

SBM President Tom Rombach will present the McCree Awards at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on April 19 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.

The McCree Awards are given each year to foster greater public understanding of the inherent values of the legal and judicial system.

The awards were named in honor of Wade H. McCree Jr., who served as a federal judge, University of Michigan law professor and U.S. solicitor general of the United States.