Boston Globe receives Pulliam First Amendment Award
Matthew Kent, Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — The Boston Globe Spotlight Team has been selected to receive the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for its work in exposing secrecy in the Massachusetts court system.
Presented by the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, the award recognizes those who have fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is awarded in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999. He was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment.
The Globe Spotlight Team discovered that Massachusetts clerks quietly dismiss tens of thousands of criminal cases a year in secret criminal hearings at the beginning of the process. Through data, interviews and public records requests to local police departments Globe journalists cracked a sliver of light onto the hearings, which are held to decide if there is enough evidence to issue criminal charges.
The team faced numerable obstacles in the process. Not only are the clerk magistrate hearings generally closed to the public, they are not typically listed in public court indexes or calendars. Most of the hearings are not recorded and the files are considered confidential. But the Spotlight Team persisted, taking advantage of an obscure regulation that allows citizens to petition the court system for data. The reporters surveyed clerks, compiled databases and filed public records requests and found an uneven process of justice that appeared to favor the wealthy and powerful.
The resulting series, “Our secret courts” has already made an impact. The governor, the state attorney general and other top officials have called for more transparency. Ten state lawmakers have filed legislation to make sure the hearings are recorded and open to the public. Top court officials acknowledged significant problems with the clerk-magistrate system and have formed a task force to study reforms.
“Spotlight staffers spent months shining a light on the darkest corner of the court system and exposed significant problems with the secretive system,” the nomination letter said. “The Globe filed a lawsuit challenging the secrecy and fighting for public access to the records in the future.”
The state's highest court is considering a lawsuit brought by the Globe to give the public access to tens of thousands of files each year, where clerks admitted there was probable cause to issue criminal complaints - but declined to do so for unknown reasons.
The Boston Globe Spotlight Team will receive a crystal award and travel accommodations to the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference in San Antonio. There, the staff will be honored at the SPJ President’s Installation Banquet. In addition, the Globe will be awarded $10,000 by the SPJ Foundation.
Learn more about the award and see a list of previous winners here.
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