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Josh, Sarah & David Greene receive James Madison honors from SPJ

by via Society of Prof. Journalists
Feb. 12, 2007

Matthew Hirsch
Freedom of Information Committee
Society of Professional Journalists, NorCal Chapter
Phone: (415) 749-5451
E-mail: mhirsch [at]



The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter
will honor four Bay Area journalists who have waged separate
campaigns to resist government subpoenas in defense of the First
Amendment right to freedom of the press. As freelance journalists
Josh Wolf and Sarah Olson, and San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark
Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams discovered, government officials over
the past year have aggressively challenged journalists’ rights to
protect confidential sources and refuse testimony in court
proceedings that would undermine the independent free press. To
date, Wolf has spent over four months in an East Bay federal prison
in an effort to shield his unpublished video footage from a federal
grand jury.

Other Madison Award winners include Mark Klein, a former AT&T
technician who blew the whistle on the federal government’s
warrantless wiretapping program; reporters at four northern
California newspapers who broke major stories in 2006 using public
records; and student journalists at Lowell High School in San Francisco.

These Madison Award winners will be recognized March 13 at Biscuits
and Blues restaurant near San Francisco’s Union Square district.
Visit or call (415) 749-5451 for ticket
information or more details.

The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards is named for the
creative force behind the First Amendment. The awards honor local
journalists, organizations, public officials and private citizens who
have fought for public access to government meetings and records and
promoted the public’s right to know. Award winners are selected by
the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional
Journalists’ Northern California chapter.

Background information, including a complete list and a description
of winners, is attached.

The following is a complete list of 2007 James Madison Freedom of
Information Award Winners:

Rowland “Reb” Rebele
Rowland Rebele, the former publisher of community newspapers and an
unflagging advocate of independent journalism and open-government, is
a First Amendment mensch. When budget cuts threatened to shut down
student journalism in Oakland's public schools a few years ago,
Rebele wrote a check to keep the presses running. A devoted alumnus
of Stanford University, he has endowed a novel internship program at
the university's journalism department, benefiting both students and
understaffed newspapers in California. And as a long-time director of
the California First Amendment Coalition, Rebele has been CFAC's
guiding hand and primary benefactor.

Robert Ovetz
Schools are places of learning, and art schools are places for
learning expression. But when students at the privately owned Art
Institute of California in San Francisco wanted to publish a short
story dealing with racism in the school’s cultural magazine, school
administrators blocked its publication and fired Dr. Robert Ovetz, an
adjunct instructor who protested the censorship. He defended the
students and educated them about their First Amendment rights,
efforts that led administrators to reverse course and allow the
magazine to be published – though they have not welcomed Ovetz back
to the school.

Ryan McKee
Last spring Ryan McKee, a student at Pasadena City College and a
volunteer with the nonprofit Californians Aware, announced the
results of a statewide public records audit. The audit tested how 31
state agencies responded to requests under the California Public
Records Act. Results showed that many of these agencies struggled to
fully comply with the law. McKee’s work prompted widespread media
coverage and inspired several newspapers around the state to conduct
public records audits of their own.

JOURNALIST (4 winners)
Michele Marcucci & Rebecca Vesely, ANG Newspapers
ANG Newspapers last July published an expose on the substandard care
received by some of California’s most vulnerable residents, people
with autism, mental retardation and other developmental disabilities
living in private care homes. Because many records generated by
regional nonprofit care centers are not publicly accessible,
reporters Michele Marcucci and Rebecca Vesely compiled information
for 300 local homes piece by piece, then developed their own database
to analyze what they found. The resulting series, called “Broken
Homes,” led state officials to resume annual inspections of these
licensed care facilities, a practice that had ceased at one point due
to budgetary constraints.

Andrew McIntosh & John Hill, Sacramento Bee
The California Highway Patrol is one of the largest and most
respected of the nation’s law enforcement agencies. At the same time,
it is one of the state’s largest bureaucracies, a distinction that
led Sacramento Bee reporters John Hill and Andrew McIntosh to launch
a wide-ranging investigation of the CHP. The two sifted through reams
and megabytes of public records for a series of stories that exposed
fraud and abuse in the vast agency and drew calls from the
Legislature for reform.

Meera Pal, Contra Costa Times
An e-mail scandal in the Pleasanton mayor’s race left the normally
tranquil East Bay city’s leadership in doubt for a full month
following Election Day last year. During the campaign and its
aftermath, reporter Meera Pal investigated reports that the mayor had
used a public email account for campaign work and another candidate
had been systematically deleting public emails. Pal flushed out the
story using Freedom of Information Act requests, helping to put the
email issue in perspective for voters. Later, the Pleasanton city
council began drawing up an email records retention policy.

Susan Sward, Bill Wallace, Elizabeth Fernandez & Seth Rosenfeld,
San Francisco Chronicle
“Use of Force,” an investigative series about the San Francisco
Police Department, revealed an institution that failed to control its
officers’ use of physical force against civilians. To show that the
deadliest use of force was concentrated among a small but influential
group of officers, Chronicle reporters built a database to examine
any officer’s records over a nine-year period. That gave the
Chronicle access to better information than the police department’s
own data. Before the final article, on the high African American
arrest rate, was published, city leaders hired a criminal justice
expert to examine the disparity compared with other cities.

David Greene
To anyone who doesn’t already know David Greene, it would seem this
man has cloned himself and sent an army of lawyers into the courts to
defend the First Amendment. Over the past year alone, he has
represented jailed video journalist Josh Wolf and freelance radio
reporter Sarah Olson, who resisted separate federal government
subpoenas. He also represented the San Francisco Bay Guardian and
Media Alliance, who persuaded a federal judge to unseal records in a
major media antitrust lawsuit. All the while, David has continued his
work as an educator and as an advocate for myriad other clients as
executive director of the First Amendment Project.

NEWS MEDIA (2 winners)
San Jose Mercury News
News organizations often call for more transparency in the conduct of
public business. But a rash of secret dealings in San Jose City Hall
prompted the Mercury News to go a step further, calling for the
adoption of a sunshine ordinance that would open city government to
greater public scrutiny. The paper produced a model ordinance the
city could use as the basis for drafting its own, and continues to
work with a community task force developing a law tailored to the
city’s needs. Meanwhile, the Merc built public understanding and
support for sunshine, helping to make it an issue in last year’s
mayoral campaign.

San Mateo County Times
In the wake of recent Norovirus outbreaks around the state, counties
have been increasingly silent on naming facilities where confirmed
outbreaks of this highly contagious virus occurred, especially where
residential homes are concerned. In San Mateo County, officials
refused to disclose the names of several facilities suffering an
outbreak, citing health information privacy laws. Using the
California Public Records Act, the San Mateo County Times forced
health officials to relinquish the names of affected facilities,
including two not originally noted by the county. Without going to
court, The Times was able to establish a precedent that will serve to
inform their readers in the future.

Josh Wolf
Last November, SPJ Northern California named Josh Wolf one of three
journalists of the year to acknowledge his sacrifice by going to jail
on a contempt-of-court charge rather than turning over outtakes from
his video of a violent street protest in 2005. Wolf has now served a
longer jail term for resisting a subpoena than any journalist in U.S.
history. But rather than be silenced, Wolf continued operating his
Web log, his ‘blog,’ by sending letters to family and friends to post
on He created two other Web sites as well:, established to support journalists' resistance to
government pressure, and, giving prisoners a means to
express themselves and air grievances within the prison system.

John Sarsfield
As district attorney of San Benito County, John Sarsfield did
something unheard of for someone in his position: He sought to
prosecute the county board of supervisors for violating the Brown
Act, the state law providing for openness in government meetings.
Sarsfield launched an investigation after a complaint that the board
had met illegally in closed session; the board later cut off his
funding in retaliation. The Brown Act lacks an enforcement mechanism,
and a DA’s decision to prosecute is entirely discretionary. In other
words, it never happens. Sarsfield is being honored for valuing open
government enough to put his position on the line by tackling a
politically sensitive violation.

Mark Fainaru-Wada & Lance Williams, San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle’s recent coverage of steroid use in
professional sports was a grand slam for investigative reporting. But
because reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams relied on
leaked grand jury testimony, the two face an ongoing threat of prison
time unless they reveal confidential sources, something both of them
have refused to do. As the Chronicle noted in a legal brief filed in
December, the stakes are extraordinarily high, reaching back to the
legacy of “Deep Throat,” who in the early 1970s helped uncover the
Watergate scandal. “If the subpoenas in this case must be enforced,”
attorneys for the Chronicle wrote, “then no reporter today could make
a promise of confidentiality to a contemporary Deep Throat that he is
legally entitled to keep.”

Sarah Olson
Independent radio reporter Sarah Olson successfully resisted a
subpoena from the Army in the court martial of First Lt. Ehren
Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly criticized the
war. Called to testify about an interview with Watada, Olson argued
that her work spoke for itself and claimed the subpoena was merely an
excuse to intimidate the press. Army prosecutors ultimately dropped
the subpoena once Watada agreed to stipulate that her reporting was
accurate. Olson, however, attributes the turn of events to the
support she received from media groups, including SPJ.

Staff of The Lowell
The 2006 – ’07 academic year at Lowell High School in San Francisco
got off to a crime-ridden and controversial start. Reporters at the
school's student-run paper, The Lowell, covered it all. Their work
prompted the school principal to come in and lecture students,
questioning their choice to file stories rather than turning in
sensitive information directly to school administrators. All along,
the students resisted their principal’s attempt to squeeze them for
information, recognizing this would compromise their ability to
cultivate sources in the future. These young journalists are being
honored for understanding the need to protect confidential sources in
order to bring the whole story into the public eye.

Mark Klein
A class action lawsuit seeking to end the federal government’s
warrantless wiretapping program, targeting its own citizens, got a
boost last April from evidence that shows the National Security
Agency was eavesdropping on telephone calls and Internet traffic.
Mark Klein, a former AT&T communications technician, discovered a
room in a San Francisco building owned by SBC, AT&T’s corporate
predecessor, which he claims is operated by the NSA. He came forward
because he believes the Bush Administration was not being forthcoming
about the extent of its domestic spying. The case is currently under
review by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.


David Greene
Executive Director/ Staff Counsel
1736 Franklin Street, 9th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612

510-208-4562 (fax)

The First Amendment Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated
to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and
petition. FAP provides advice, educational materials, and legal
representation to its core constituency of activists, journalists,
and artists in service of these fundamental liberties.

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