Freedom of Information: 2007 James Madison Award winners - Page 2

Society of Professional Journalists Northern California announces First Amendment award winners
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We got two weeks' worth of stories out of these documents," DeBoard said. "It really showed us that what the school was telling us just wasn't true."

The documents detailed the recruiting scheme and gave DeBoard tons of leads for follow-up stories, including the address of "a home owned by the coach where there were all these gigantic Samoan linemen living there." DeBoard called the effort an "adrenaline rush" better than that caused by the best game he's covered and a high point of his journalism career.

THOMAS PEELE

Contra Costa Times investigative reporter Thomas Peele has a long history of battling for public records access on behalf of both reporters and private citizens. Peele, who helps with projects for all the newspapers under the Bay Area News Group-East Bay ownership, helped ensure the recovery of thousands of e-mails from the Oakland mayoral tenure of Jerry Brown when he left office to become the state's attorney general in 2006. Peele also helped conduct a statewide audit of Public Records Act compliance by law enforcement agencies with the nonprofit Californians Aware, which revealed glaring inconsistencies in how police across the state make information about their activity available to the public. And he's been a major figure in helping the Chauncey Bailey Project pry out new information about Bailey's murder last year and it's connection to Your Black Muslim Bakery. He began his career in 1983 at a small weekly in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and moved from there in 1988 to the Ocean County Observer in New Jersey before joining the CCT in 2000.

ROLAND DE WOLK

KTVU-TV producer Roland De Wolk is leading the investigative team of photographer Tony Hedrick and video editor Ron Acker in a quest to get the names of drivers who regularly use FasTrak lanes but don't pay anything. But to date, says De Volk, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has been blocking his team's quest.

De Wolk told the Guardian that his team filed a California Public Records request when the MTC wouldn't provide information on the amount of money it was losing thanks to drivers who don't pay tolls when they use FasTrak lanes.

"We asked MTC for specific numbers last summer and got little information. That makes a reporter's antennae quiver," said De Wolk.

But when he and his team asked for the numbers of people obstructing their plates, the MTC started acting squirrelly, De Wolk said.

"Finally, after six to eight weeks of asking we got an answer: a photo of a car whose plate was blank," fumed De Wolk, whose team continues to push for the names of the 10 most frequent FasTrak violators.

Broadcast News Outlet

KGO-TV

When KGO-TV reporter Dan Noyes and producer Steve Fyffe asked Muni to turn over records of public complaints against its drivers, they were ready for some bureaucratic foot dragging. But they never expected the yearlong grudge match that followed. First, the union representing Muni drivers sued to keep the records sealed. Then Muni's parent department, the Municipal Transportation Agency, made a backroom deal with the union and released a blizzard of confusing and heavily redacted paperwork that would have made the Pentagon blush.

"It was essentially a big document dump," Fyffe told us. "There was no way to tell one form from another or which driver was which."

Noyes and Fyffe convinced their bosses at KGO-TV to file a lawsuit for full access to the records. The station prevailed, after which Noyes and Fyffe received over 1,200 pages of public complaints about 25 drivers. Recently, the station went back to court after Muni refused to release surveillance tapes of the drivers.