State Bar McCree Award winners to be honored

A team of journalists from WXYZ-TV has won top honors in the State Bar of Michigan's 38th Annual Wade H. McCree Awards for the Advancement of Justice for their broadcast series uncovering Wayne County's broken bond system, which allowed most criminals who skipped court to abscond without paying the bond money they owed.

The print/online category winner was a team from the Detroit Free Press team of journalists, who wrote a series about a family whose lives were nearly destroyed when the father was falsely accused of raping his 14-year-old mute and autistic daughter. The accusation involved the use of a controversial technique known as facilitated communication.

State Bar President Julie Fershtman will present the McCree Awards at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on Sunday, April 22, at the Kellogg Center 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.

WXYZ-TV investigative reporters Heather Catallo and Ross Jones and editor Randy Lundquist documented the failure of Wayne County's Third Circuit Court to track down and report bond absconders to bond companies, allowing $90 million in forfeited bond to go uncollected since 1986. The court also failed to pursue no-show defendants. As the direct result of their reporting, the court changed its procedures, and now has begun holding show-cause hearings for people who flee instead of facing charges. This change has already resulted in many criminals being brought to justice.

Michigan Radio and another WXYZ-TV team tied for second place in the broadcast category. Michigan Radio investigative reporter Lester Graham won for a series about the state legislature's reexamination of Michigan's mandatory no-fault insurance laws. Some legislators argued that the state's no-fault personal injury protection is too generous and unsustainable, and ought to be eliminated. They said doing so would lower the cost of automotive insurance for Michigan consumers. Opponents contended that eliminating mandatory no-fault insurance would keep people who suffered severe injuries in automotive accidents from getting needed medical treatments. The legislature has yet to change the no-fault laws.

WXYZ-TV senior investigative reporter William (Bill) Proctor, along with editor Randy Lundquist and videographers Ramon Rosario and Johnny Sartin, won for their investigative series about Wayne County 22nd District Court Judge Sylvia James, the only judge in Inkster. Their series began by following a conflict between James and city officials over the court's accounts and spending, and grew to include complaints about the judge allegedly using her position to hide misconduct. The State Court Administrator's Office audited her court's accounts and placed her on administrative leave. In January 2012, James underwent a hearing based on a 192-item, four-count complaint from the Judicial Tenure Commission that could result in her removal from the bench.

In the print/online category, Detroit Free Press reporters L. L. Brasier and John Wisely received top prize for a six-part series that followed the harrowing ordeal of the Wendrow family, whose 14-year-old mute and autistic daughter, through the use of a controversial technique called facilitated communication, claimed her father had been raping her for years. Although facilitated communication had been widely linked to false accusations, and no concrete evidence of abuse could be found, her father, Julian Wendrow, was arrested and charged with sexual assault, and his wife, Thal, was also arrested and charged as an accomplice. The family was separated for 106 days, the father jailed for 80 days, and eventually the case collapsed due to a lack of evidence.

John Barnes led a team of MLive Media Group reporters to win second prize in the print/online category. The team, composed of Barton Deiters, Khalil AlHajal, Danielle Salisbury, Rex Hall, John Hausman, Andy Hoag, Jonathan Oosting, Michael Wayland, Angela Wittrock and Brandon Howell, examined the inconsistencies of Michigan's juvenile lifer law. Their report found that teens were routinely sentenced to life without parole when they were only an accomplice to a homicide and did not do the actual killing, and cases where the actual killer received less time in prison than the juvenile accomplice because they chose a jury trial over a plea bargain. On the second day their series ran, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a case that would determine whether life sentences for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Curt Guyette, news editor at Detroit Metro Times, won third prize in the print/online category for a piece he wrote following the fall of two police officers, a judge, and an assistant prosecutor in Wayne County. In the story he's been following since 2007, these four were brought down by allegations that the judge and assistant prosecutor had allowed the police officers' perjured testimony to be used in the trial of one of the largest drug busts in the state's history. This year's coverage followed the trials of the two police officers and the assistant prosecutor. Misconduct charges against the judge were recently dropped by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Published: Thu, Apr 19, 2012

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