Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusives: National Enquirer’s secret safe, Cohen subpoenaed on Trump Foundation

“What’s in the safe?”

The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.

Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.

It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators subpoenaed Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. Klepper reported that Cohen is a potentially significant source for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.

For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.

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March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: $200M fund for opioid treatment sits unused

broke the news that a $200 million fund intended to help opioid addicts has been sitting unused for more than a year. Mulvihill has maintained his sourcing and has followed various opioids cases, even during a year focused on the coronavirus and U.S. elections. His attention to the opioids beat paid off with an exclusive story revealing that as part of its bankruptcy case, Purdue Pharma had set aside $200 million to help local communities and nonprofits serve people addicted to opioids. Yet more than a year after the fund was established, not a penny had been spent because state attorneys general and lawyers representing local governments couldn’t agree on who should be in charge of distributing the money. Advocates for addiction treatment were outraged. One lawyer representing overdose victims called it “a tragedy of epic proportions” that the money had not been spent. Portraits by Richmond, Virginia, photographer Steve Helber, of a woman who lost her twin brother to addiction, complemented the story. https://bit.ly/3lF6rX0

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Dec. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: New abuse suits could cost church billions

for taking a hard look at the financial reckoning of the U.S. Roman Catholic sex abuse trials, and reporting exclusively that changing laws and attitudes could translate into a flood of lawsuits with potential payouts topping $4 billion. Condon and Mustian reported on the potential impact of new laws, enacted in 15 states, that extend or suspend the statute of limitations governing claims. The pair found several attorneys who have turned their entire practices over to such cases, with TV ads and billboards seeking clients. https://bit.ly/36oRoJX

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May 13, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Acute shortage of public defenders in Oregon and beyond

picked up on a seemingly mundane local story: A state working group was looking into problems with Oregon’s public defense system. That seed led the Portland-based reporter to interview attorneys, private investigators and a suspect in an attempted murder, revealing that the combination of a post-pandemic glut of delayed cases and the state’s severe shortage of public defenders means hundreds of low-income defendants don’t have legal representation — sometimes in serious felony cases — and judges have dismissed several dozen cases.Flaccus found similar crises unfolding from Maine to New Mexico. And she showed the many painful repercussions of the problem, highlighting how young victims of sex abuse and trafficking are hesitant to come forward because of disillusionment with the system.Read more

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Dec. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Back-to-back scoops on US oil execs jailed in Venezuela

used months of source development and dogged reporting to break two same-day scoops for AP on the sensitive case of six U.S. oil executives who have spent the last three years jailed in Venezuela on charges of corruption and embezzlement.

Denied access to the men’s trial, Smith met regularly with their attorneys, sent a letter to the “Citgo 6” and was put in touch with the family of Tomeu Vadell, one of the jailed men.

His persistence led to two news breaks: the release of an exclusive letter by Vadell — the first words by any of the men since their 2017 arrest — and later that day, the judge’s decision finding them guilty of corruption. https://bit.ly/3ogHwuE

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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Opioids scoop: Reporters expose Italian probe of Purdue’s foreign affiliate

for breaking the news that executives with the international arm of Purdue Pharma were caught up in a criminal investigation in Italy alleging they paid a doctor to help sell more opioids in the country. It’s the first known criminal case outside of the U.S. involving employees with the pharmaceutical empire owned by the Sackler family, and the the first in an investigative series about the spread of opioids overseas. The reporters found that the doctor wrote scientific studies and organized conferences to promote opioids as safe and effective for chronic pain patients – the same tactics that experts and attorneys general say Purdue and other companies used in the U.S. that laid the foundation for the addiction crisis.https://bit.ly/2EG0sOZhttps://www.apnews.com/GlobalOpioids

May 06, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Investigation reveals traumatic backlog of Mississippi autopsies

investigated Mississippi’s massive autopsy backlog for more than a year, gathering new data and personal stories revealing the terrible cost of the backlog which has traumatized families and jeopardized investigations.The state’s public officials had talked previously about understaffing in the medical examiner’s office, but Willingham’s reporting went much further, revealing a system long operating outside of accepted national standards for death investigations. She found that coroners were waiting years — and in some cases more than a decade — for autopsy reports. District attorneys and coroners who trusted Willingham told her about specific cases and connected her to families who told deeply personal accounts of waiting a year or more for results on loved ones.Read more

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Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Au pairs win $65.5M in suit over US pay

The Au Pair cultural exchange program provides U.S. families with low-cost child care, but former au pairs said they were also asked to feed chickens, help families move and do gardening – all while working at below minimum wage. That prompted a judge to grant class-action status to 11 former au pairs last February and drew the attention of Denver breaking news staffer Colleen Slevin, who spent the next 11 months learning all about the world of au pairs and conducting interviews, such as one with a former au pair who said she felt like a slave.

Slevin also built a relationship with the attorneys for the au pairs and negotiated with them for exclusive notice when the $65.5 million settlement was filed last week.

The result was an APNewsBreak on the settlement that went unmatched for hours and received play around the world.

For her perseverance in building sources and tracking a story of international interest while covering breaking news over a three-state region, Slevin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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March 18, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins access as opioids victims confront Purdue’s Sackler family

leveraged years of source building and evenhanded reporting on opioid litigation in the U.S., securing rare access in all formats to an unprecedented federal court hearing in the most high-profile opioids case in the U.S.In the virtual hearing, people who had become addicted to opioids, and the parents of children lost to addiction, would finally confront members of the family that owned Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin. Mulvihill overcame federal court restrictions to get full access to the Zoom link for the hearing, and he leaned on his relationship with victims’ attorneys to have a multiformat team at a law firm as victims made emotional statements to members of the Sackler family. Read more

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Dec. 02, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Catholic review boards often fail sex abuse survivors

In addressing its clergy sex abuse crisis, the Catholic church has touted a key reform: independent review boards with lay people. 

But an exhaustive investigation by the AP team of Reese Dunklin, Matt Sedensky and Mitch Weiss methodically discredited that claim. 

The reporters unearthed dozens of cases nationwide in which review boards rejected complaints from survivors, only to have them later validated by secular authorities. They also found that bishops stacked the boards with their own aides and attorneys. In a few cases, board members were themselves clergy accused of sexual misconduct. 

The rock-solid reporting was brought alive by the storytelling, with revealing details down to the pink sweater one board member was knitting while listening to a survivor’s story of abuse. 

For their comprehensive investigation into the Catholic church’s deeply flawed system for addressing claims of abuse, Dunklin, Sedensky and Weiss earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 21, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Smart reporting puts AP ahead on indictments in spa killings

was far ahead of even local media in reporting the indictment of the man accused of killing eight people at Atlanta-area massage businesses, answering a key question in the case: whether the district attorneys in two counties where the shootings occurred would seek the death penalty and/or enhanced penalties under Georgia’s hate crimes law. Atlanta reporter Brumback had learned from sources that both counties would likely present their cases to grand juries the same day; she worked up prep for no fewer than eight different scenarios, then began checking Fulton County’s court website. The indictment showed up — with notice of intent to indeed seek hate crime charges and the death penalty. Brumback quickly obtained the document from court clerk sources, then turned to her prep reporting for the story.Meanwhile, she had asked South Desk editor R.J. Rico to keep checking Cherokee County’s court website. When the Cherokee County indictment did turn up, the pair worked together to expedite that news. As other reporters asked questions regarding Cherokee County’s indictment at the news conference, AP’s update was on the wire.AP’s reporting was more than half an hour ahead of local media, and national outlets were even further behind. The story led AP customer use for the day, picked up by some 650 news outlets. https://aplink.news/x05

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April 21, 2017

Best of the States

AP investigation reveals federal judge impaired by alcoholism

Baton Rouge-based reporter Michael Kunzelman was reporting on the police killing of a black man outside a convenience store last summer when a source called to encourage him to look into a case in front of a federal judge that had been mysteriously reassigned. It wasn’t the easiest time to be chasing down tips: the Alton Sterling shooting was swiftly followed by the killings of three law enforcement officials and then catastrophic flooding in Louisiana’s capital.

But Kunzelman didn’t forget about it.

When he was free, he began an investigation into the performance of U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, work that would take months and aggressive use of public records. It culminated with the discovery last week she’d been ordered to seek treatment for alcoholism so severe that a colleague believed she couldn’t take care of herself. For his work Kunzelman wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 14, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reporter locates plundered antiquities in Israeli museum

revealed that weeks after an American billionaire agreed to forfeit $70 million in looted antiquities to U.S. authorities, three of the items were still on display in Israel’s national museum.The AP was the only outlet to follow up on the Manhattan district attorney’s recent deal with Michael Steinhardt, a New York-based art collector and philanthropist with deep ties to Israel. Ben Zion found that the Israel Museum was home to several of the items seized, including a 2,200-year-old Greek text carved into limestone, with Steinhardt listed as the donor who provided them. The Jerusalem-based reporter also located a 2,800-year-old inscription on black volcanic stone, a Steinhardt-owned artifact of uncertain provenance that wasn’t included in the deal.Ben Zion, who has reported extensively on antiquities in Israel, tapped contacts inside the museum, the antiquities trade and the academic community to pin down the story. Neither Steinhardt nor the museum appear to have wanted the subject made public. They gave only brief prepared statements after repeated prodding.AP’s story comes as museums are facing greater scrutiny over the chain of ownership of their art, particularly work looted from conflict zones or illegally plundered from archaeological sites. There are growing calls for such items to be returned to their countries of origin.https://aplink.news/rau

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Iowa pair, first contacted by AP, deny involvement in Tibbetts’ death

was steadfast: Before publicly identifying two men suggested as suspects in the 2018 murder of Mollie Tibbetts, he needed to talk to them. The sentencing of another man convicted in the stabbing death of the University of Iowa student had been delayed after his defense attorneys offered up Gavin Jones and Dalton Hansen as possible suspects. Foley was appalled that Iowa media outlets were identifying the two men as suspects without trying to reach them for comment. Neither man had been contacted — by law enforcement, news media or anyone else — after they were named by the defense.That changed when Foley dug deep to unearth phone numbers buried in unrelated court documents. When reached, Hansen called the allegations crazy but confirmed his connection to Jones and said he knew the inmate who was implicating the pair in the case. Jones also eventually answered Foley’s call, but demanded to know how Foley got the number, started to swear at him and almost hung up. But Foley calmed the man, keeping him on the line long enough to maintain his innocence and assert he has alibis lined up to share with investigators whenever they reach out to him. “The cops haven’t talked to me. No one has talked to me. You are the first person that has called me,” he told Foley.Other outlets had stories about the judge’s expected ruling rejecting the defense arguments, but Foley was exclusive, leading with the comments of both men accused by defense lawyers.https://aplink.news/ubk

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