March 24, 2017

Best of the States

Under radar, Florida spent about $250M on private lawyers, fees

AP Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout started noticing how often Florida under Republican Gov. Rick Scott was losing court cases over its policies and was forced to pay opposing attorney fees. He decided to start a tally. But those fees would be just the tip of a quarter-billion-dollar iceberg. The money the state spent on private law firms to defend itself dwarfed that initial amount.

Getting that overall tally was the hard part. When Gary asked what was spent on outside legal counsel during Scott’s half-dozen years in office, the state attorney general told him: “We do not have that information."

So, Gary set out to search through the documents himself, revealing the true cost to taxpayers. For bringing to light a huge chunk of opaque spending and hold state leaders to account, Gary wins this week’s Best of the States.

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April 20, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump’s company asked Panamanian president to help in hotel ownership spat

for learning exclusively that lawyers for the Trump Organization had sent a letter appealing to Panama's president to intervene in a bitter dispute over control of a luxury hotel in the Central American nation's capital, an example of the kind of ethical questions surrounding Trump's business dealings that have troubled observers since his election. https://bit.ly/2EZTmlP

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: More than 300 accusers in Ohio State doctor scandal

for dogged source work and thorough reporting to confirm the growing number of sexual misconduct accusers against the late Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, Franko has covered the scandal from the beginning and has deep sources, but nailing down the number of accusers has been difficult. Because the lawyers have been tight-lipped about the mediation process, Franko stayed in touch with some of the plaintiffs even if they would talk only off the record. The subject of the growing number of accusers came up during one such conversation, and Franko started checking with some of the lawyers to confirm it. She learned enough to prep a draft story, and when she finally got multiple confirmations and comment, she had the story ready to roll out: More than 300 accusers have come forward. The APNewsBreak was used by the hometown Columbus Dispatch and received wide play online with solid engagement on social media. https://bit.ly/2MFdD8F

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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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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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of shooting by Oklahoma police that wounded 3 children

for dogged reporting on the physical and emotional struggles of three children wounded when police officers opened fire on their mother’s pickup truck. Authorities had largely avoided releasing information for nearly a month after the incident, but using Oklahoma open records law, and interviews with police, lawyers and the children’s mother, the team was first to reveal details of the investigation into the shooting, and the long recovery ahead for the children. https://bit.ly/2Wmwvyx

Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: Plead guilty or risk life in prison

for using data and shoe-leather reporting to spotlight a terrible choice faced by many innocent people in a judicial system full of overworked defense lawyers and expedient judges and prosecutors: Plead guilty or risk going to prison for life. Last year, they found, 68 of 157 exonerations were in cases in which the defendant had pleaded guilty after facing that choice. http://apne.ws/2fVEf1O

Dec. 03, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation, context put AP ahead on opioids verdict against pharmacies

used planning, prep material and contextualized coverage to put AP well ahead of the competition when a federal jury in Cleveland held pharmacy chains responsible for their role in the opioids crisis. The jury found CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties.Seewer and Mulvihill drafted prep that included not only the possible jury decisions but their potential impact on the larger landscape of opioids litigation. They also planned how to get the story out quickly, Seewer making sure AP was literally well-positioned, planting himself outside the courtroom waiting for the verdict. The result: an urgent filing by the East Desk’s Jeff McMillan that beat major competitors by at least 20 minutes, delivering remarkably strong play.Swift teamwork added reaction from both sides, as Seewer talked with lawyers at court while Mulvihill got statements from the companies and reached out to other sources. Photos prepared in advance were quickly linked, and the reporters also helped ensure AP had video of lawyers reacting to the verdict.The pair followed up the next day with even more context in a smart story that unspooled the central argument of the case — that the pharmacies creating a “public nuisance” with their dispensing — and looked ahead to how the verdict could affect other litigation and communities that want to hold pharmacies accountable.https://aplink.news/i6jhttps://aplink.news/qa9https://aplink.video/g20

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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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March 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: One man’s fight against an oil pipeline on his land

reported on a land grab for a proposed oil pipeline, conveying the news in the most compelling way possible, from the perspective of the people involved. The story is told largely through the eyes of Clyde Robinson, a 80-year-old Memphis, Tennessee, landowner fighting against larger forces to keep his land in what advocates say is textbook environmental racism.Robinson, who is Black, compared the effort to seize his land through eminent domain to slavery, when members of his own family were not compensated for their work. He vowed that no amount of money would convince him to change his mind.Environmental lawyers who have taken up Robinson’s cause say there’s no public interest that would justify seizure of the land for a business project, while a spokeswoman for the pipeline project walked back a statement by a land agent that the company had chosen “a point of least resistance” for the pipeline's proposed path. That statement was interpreted by the project’s opponents as having discriminatory undertones. https://bit.ly/3bDr1VZ

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Jan. 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: NFL’s Saints allegedly do damage control for Catholic Church on abuse crisis

New York-based federal law enforcement reporter Jim Mustian never gives up on a story.

Sticking with a case he began covering at another news organization in another state more than two years ago, Mustian landed a jaw-dropping exclusive for the AP: That a trove of hundreds of confidential emails has surfaced allegedly showing executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese amid its clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The story had an immediate, visceral impact with readers and earned praise from fellow journalists.

Mustian will continue to chip away at this story and, hopefully, reveal more about the Saints and their involvement with the church. But for now, Mustian’s sticktoitiveness and tough accountability reporting earns him this week’s Best of the States 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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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals litigation over alleged abuse suffered by children separated at border

for their investigation breaking the news of dozens of unredacted legal claims seeking more than $200 million in damages for trauma and abuse alleged by parents and their children who had been separated at the border; these included children who were sexually molested by other children in foster homes.The administrative claims shared with The Associated Press were heartbreaking: Young children pulled from their parents’ arms by government agents were sent to foster homes and residential shelters where they suffered sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. The reporters revealed the high cost of the claims: more than $200 million for 38 claims is just “the tip of the iceberg” said lawyers. And this was the first report that some separated children in foster homes – considered safer and healthier – had been sexually molested. The story ran with exclusive photographs and video of a father whose young son, whose heart was failing, was put in a foster home where he was molested by other children.https://bit.ly/2YQwnbLhttps://bit.ly/2L0R1Mv

March 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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June 25, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Expertise, preparation make coverage of SCOTUS ruling an ‘exclusive’

applied unmatched beat knowledge and meticulous preparation to score a major beat on the Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling that left the entire Affordable Care Act intact. Sherman was so quick that he had a virtual exclusive on the closely watched case, with AP's mobile push alert moving a stunning 19 minutes ahead of major competition.The foundation of his success was Sherman’s encyclopedic knowledge of both the court and the case. He covered the original 2012 challenge to Obamacare and had a full understanding of the options in the current case. That expertise helped him anticipate that the Court was heading toward preserving the law, based on the tone and questions of the case’s November hearing. In the end, Sherman would not only predict the outcome, but according to Jessica Gresko, his highly respected partner in Supreme Court coverage, he even predicted who would write the majority opinion.But Sherman had thoroughly prepared for every possible ruling. In his own words: “We developed a range of possible outcomes based on the issues under consideration by the Court: standing, constitutionality of the penalty-free mandate, severability. We talked to lawyers and experts on both sides. We drafted and revised alerts and leads for each option: No standing, mandate constitutional, mandate unconstitutional but rest of law stands and mandate unconstitutional and rest of law falls.” In the lead-up to the ruling he also worked with White House news editor Nancy Benac and developed background material with health care reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar to quickly fill out the story regardless of outcome.It all paid off on Thursday with Sherman’s standout coverage putting AP far out front on the intensely competitive story.https://aplink.news/337https://aplink.video/3c7

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April 08, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reporting on horrific child sex abuse case reveals systemic failures

reported exclusively about a civilian U.S. Army employee who led a child sex in which he victimized his own adopted son and put national security at risk, all while the State of Arizona and the Department of Defense missed or ignored signs of his criminal behavior.Rezendes was investigating a separate story in Arizona when a source told him about the case. His reporting revealed that complaints had been filed against David Frodsham, the man at the center of the abuse ring, for years, but Arizona still allowed him to foster and adopt children, while the military kept him in sensitive management jobs, even though his behavior made him a national security risk.Read more

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful, innovative coverage of virtual Supreme Court

broke new ground for AP, creating popular new features for the court’s first-ever arguments by telephone with live audio. The pair revived the AP SCOTUS Twitter account @AP_COURTSIDE to live-tweet trivia, analysis and details during the arguments, they worked with the AP broadcast team to get AP pool access to the live audio, and they came up with a brand-new wire feature they also called “Courtside” – a more live-blog style of breaking news to help the public understand what they were hearing (including that weird toilet flush sound during one argument). That approach could become a model for covering future live news events.The features introduced by Sherman and Gresko attracted readers and followers, and complemented AP’s comprehensive stories on the court sessions.https://bit.ly/2WWadB9https://bit.ly/2YYAf9lhttps://bit.ly/2Wuubnk

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