James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners - Page 4

SF journalism association honors this year's First Amendment heroes
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The team used the Sunshine Ordinance to gather boxloads of records on use-of-force incidents, which it organized into a database that was then supplemented and cross-referenced with a wide variety of other public records, along with old-fashioned shoe leather reporting, all the while fighting through bureaucratic denials and delays.

Despite an embarrassing mislabeled photo on the first day of the series that served as fodder for attacks by the Police Department and Mayor's Office, the series made clear that rogue cops were abusing their authority, totally unchecked by their supervisors. "We were proud of what we were able to show," Cook said. "We showed a department in need of some basic reforms."

The series helped spur the early intervention system that was recently approved by the Police Commission. It's a good first step, but one criticized by the Chron and the Guardian for failing to include some key indicators used in other cities (see our editorial "Fix Early Warning for Cops," 2/28/07), something that Cook said requires ongoing vigilance by the press, to bring about needed reforms: "Only the news media is really going to accomplish this, if they stay with the story." (Steven T. Jones)

Legal counsel

DAVID GREENE

The First Amendment was never about money. Free speech is supposed to be free. But these days threats to the First Amendment are growing, more and more people who lack the resources of a major media outlet are in need of help — and there aren't many places dedicated to offering that assistance, free.

That's where David Greene and the First Amendment Project come in.

Since 1999, as a staff attorney and executive director, Greene has helped dozens of freelance journalists, students, nonprofit organizations, and independent media outlets protect and expand their free speech and open government rights.

The operation he runs is totally independent. That's a key point in an era of massive media consolidation: when the Guardian sought earlier this year to find legal representation to force open the key records in a lawsuit over Dean Singleton's local newspaper merger, we found that just about every local media law firm represented at least one of the parties to the case and thus was conflicted. The FAP was not.

Greene and the FAP have represented blogger Josh Wolf and freelancer Sarah Olson in landmark subpoena cases. Greene, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, wrote the amicus brief on behalf of noted literary artists in the California Supreme Court case In re George T., in which the court, relying heavily on the FAP brief, overturned the conviction of a juvenile who made threats to other students with a poem. And the struggle just goes on. The FAP is funded largely by private donations and always needs additional support.

"Unfortunately," Greene told us, "we have to turn away a lot more cases than we can take." (Tim Redmond)

News media

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

After years of last-minute backroom deals at San Jose's City Hall, things came to a head when the City Council rubber-stamped proposals to give a $4 million subsidy to the San Jose Grand Prix, $80 million for a stadium to keep the Earthquake soccer team from leaving town, and $45 million for new City Hall furniture.

Clearly, something had to give.