James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners - Page 6

SF journalism association honors this year's First Amendment heroes

Meanwhile, Wolf has managed to continue operating his blog, www.joshwolf.net, by sending letters to family, friends, and fellow journalists, including those at the Guardian.

Wolf has also managed to create two other Web sites: www.mediafreedoms.net, which supports journalists' resistance to government pressure, and www.prisonblogs.net, which allows prisoners to air thoughts and grievances. If Wolf can do all this from behind bars, imagine what he'll do when he finally gets out. As Wolf would say, if we could only speak to him without reserving a phone interview 48 hours in advance: "Free press? Then free Josh Wolf!" (Phelan)

Public official


As district attorney for San Benito County, John Sarsfield upset the political applecart when he tried to prosecute the County Board of Supervisors for ignoring the Brown Act's prohibitions on private communication and consensus building among board members on matters that involved employment decisions, personnel appeals, contracting, and land use–growth control issues.

His decision didn't sit well in a county where battles over the future of the land have spawned Los Valientes, a secret society that has targeted slow-growth advocates and anyone who gets in its way — including believers in open government. So the board retaliated by defunding Sarsfield's office, forcing the DA to file for a temporary restraining order against the board, the county administrative officer, and the county auditor, a countermove that kept his office operating and the investigation alive — until he lost his reelection bid to the board's chosen candidate in January 2006.

One of Los Valientes's targets, Mandy Rose, a Sierra Club member and slow-growth advocate, recalled how people on the outside warned Sarsfield what he was up against, "but he insisted on working within the system. It was what he believed in. Someone even said he was a Boy Scout."

For his efforts, Sarsfield's life was turned into a living hell that cost him his dogs, his marriage, and eventually his job. But now, with this award, he gets some small recognition for fighting the good fight. And he has also been appointed special assistant inspector general within the Office of the Inspector General by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Phelan)

Special citations


Investigative reporter Lance Williams and sportswriter Mark Fainaru-Wada joined forces in 2003 to take on what became one of the biggest — and most controversial — local news stories of the past five years.

The investigation of the Burlingame-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, better known as BALCO, and the larger scandal of widespread steroid use among baseball players was, the San Francisco Chronicle editors decided, too big for one reporter.

In fact, it turned out to be big enough for a series of stories, a book, and a legal battle that almost sent the two writers to federal prison. The duo admits today it was mostly the fear of getting scooped that drove them through the story's dramatic rise.

"I'm a baseball fan in recovery," Williams told the Guardian. "I used to think I knew the sport. I didn't have a clue about this stuff. I'm not kidding you. I had no idea how much a part of baseball steroids had become ... that whole sort of seamy underside of the drug culture and the game. I just didn't know it was like that, and I think most fans don't either."

Although prosecutors seemed to be focusing on BALCO executives, everyone following the story wanted to know what witnesses — in this case top sports stars — told a federal grand jury investigating the company.