Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards

In recognition of the important role played by the state´s news media in improving public understanding of key legal issues, The Missouri Bar annually presents its "Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards."

Three separate awards are presented by the state bar - one each for the print media, radio and television - in recognition of individual stories, series or editorials which meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Contributed significantly to public understanding of the law and legal system and/or the role of lawyers and/or judges within the system;
  • Revealed a problem in the organization, structure or administration of the law, resulting in the correction of that problem for the benefit of all Missourians; and/or
  • Enhanced the equitable administration of justice in the state.

Media representatives are invited to identify members of the news media - either within their own organization or elsewhere - who have performed exceptional work within the general criteria outlined above. Self-nominations are also encouraged. Individual reporters or entire news organizations which have performed notable work in improving public knowledge of the legal system are eligible.

Copies of pertinent articles, audiotapes or videotapes should accompany all nominations. In addition, letters in support of nominations are encouraged. These letters should set out the content of the item(s) and indicate their significance to the citizens of their area or the state as a whole. Any follow-up or reaction to the item(s) should be summarized, as well.

Final selection of the winners will be determined by the President of The Missouri Bar with the assistance of The Missouri Bar´s Executive Committee.

2018 Excellence in Legal Journalism Award Winners

This year’s recipients are WDAF-TV in Kansas City; Anna Brett of the Columbia Missourian; and Steve Pokin of the Springfield News-Leader. 2017-18 Missouri Bar President Morry Cole will present their awards Sept. 15, 2018, during the Missouri Press Association’s Annual Convention at the Better Newspaper Contest Awards Luncheon.

WDAF-TV is being recognized for its original investigation and subsequent reporting following up on the death of a 93-year-old nursing home resident who may have been sexually assaulted. Their coverage looked at a loophole in the law that did not require Missouri nursing homes to report resident abuse to law enforcement authorities. They also spotlighted the introduction and passage of legislation to rectify this situation. The project was completed by reporter John Holt, photographer Sean Walshire and investigative producer Lisa McCormick.

Brett is being honored in the print category. Her investigation and reporting uncovered a previously unknown backlog of untested sexual assault kits and exposed its impact on cases of violence against women. Her coverage includes actions by the state’s Attorney General and Legislature in response to the Missourian’s reporting.

“When evidence isn’t submitted for testing, it sends the message that sex crimes are not worth serious and comprehensive investigation—something that makes us all less safe,” Brett said. “I’m honored to receive this award from The Missouri Bar and to be recognized as contributing to the public’s understanding of the legal system.”

Pokin is also being recognized for print work. His in-depth and extensive coverage in a five-part series titled “Convicted by Blood” about Brad Jennings, who was convicted of his wife’s murder which was initially considered a suicide. . The articles described the case in detail, including allegations of evidence being withheld that led to Jenning’s release from prison pending a new trial.

“What struck me is that innocent defendants can very easily be sent away to prison without strong representation. The series also showed me that it’s possible for a lead investigator to zero in on particular defendant—at times, despite the evidence,” Pokin said. “This award means a lot to me because the subject matter is vitally important and also because it shows that the newspaper where I work, the News-Leader, was willing to free me up from column writing to report and write this lengthy, labor-intensive, comprehensive series. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank the editor who worked closely with me, Amos Bridges, who offered his advice and support.”

Click here to learn more about The Missouri Bar’s Excellence in Legal Journalism Awards and resources for members of the pres