The Associated Press has been working for more than a year with a group of media organizations to lobby the federal court system in New Jersey to release pre-sentencing memos in criminal court cases to pull back the veil on what goes into judge’s sentencing decisions.
With two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie convicted in the Bridgegate case set to find out their fates last week, New Jersey law enforcement reporter David Porter was done waiting.
For his work collaborating with AP members in New Jersey to fight for public access to the memos and then being the first to report on them, Porter wins this week’s Best of the States award.
As part of his three years of compelling coverage of the Bridgegate case, in which the Christie aides conspired to close traffic lanes on the world’s busiest bridge to punish a mayor who wouldn’t endorse him, Porter connected with AP assistant general counsel Brian Barrett to demand access from the court to the memos from former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey deputy executive director Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. Barrett connected with other media organizations and AP worked with them to convince the judge to release the documents.
AP worked with other media organizations for access to documents, but Porter wanted to break the news.
While this was done in collaboration with the other media organizations, that didn't stop Porter from wanting to be the first to report the fruits of our labor. He kept a close eye on filings in the court system and was the first to report on the government's opening salvo, which alleged that the felons had lied on the stand. His story was published 12 minutes before the attorney representing the media partners sent the filings to reporters and 16 minutes before Bloomberg caught up. He continued covering the story late into the evening as the two defendants filed their memos, which included a former governor writing on Baroni’s behalf.
As he has throughout the case, Dave advanced and covered last Wednesday's sentencings, with strong stories putting the news in the context most interesting to readers beyond just New Jersey, including the questions over what exactly Christie knew about the plot.
While Christie was in Washington being named to run a drug addiction task force for President Donald Trump, and heavily promoting himself doing that, Dave was in court in Newark writing about two of his aides being sentenced to prison. The drug task force certainly got public attention, but nowhere near the story of two of Christie's former allies being sent to jail for carrying out a political vendetta the judge said was partly inspired by the culture Christie allowed to flourish.
Dave's story along with photos from Julio Cortez and Seth Wenig, and video from Ted Shaffrey, was used by nearly 800 customers, according to data from NewsWhip. It was the most used story in the year that New Jersey has been keeping track of stories in NewsWhip.