Winners of the 2017 Texas Gavel Awards announced

AUSTIN — In-depth stories on potential abuse in Texas’ guardianship system and whether a border-spending surge resulted in arrests of “high-threat criminals” are among the winners of the 2017 Texas Gavel Awards.

Journalists representing the Texas Observer, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and KXAN-TV in Austin were selected as winners of the Texas Gavel Awards, which honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.

The State Bar of Texas will honor the winners at an awards luncheon September 14 in Austin in conjunction with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ annual conference.

The State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee coordinates the Texas Gavel Awards and recruits an independent panel of journalists and legal professionals to judge the entries. Submissions are evaluated for educational value, journalistic excellence, objectivity, creativity, and overall quality.

The winners are listed below by award category, along with short descriptions of their entries.

Print, Major Metro: Patrick Michels from the Texas Observer wins with “Who Guards the Guardians,” an in-depth look at the complex system of guardianship cases across the state. While Michels found guardianships in Texas grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015, his reporting concluded that in much of the state oversight is lacking to ensure guardianship isn’t used as a tool for abuse or theft. Michels focused on the story of a professional guardian who collected monthly fees from the estates of people he never visited, sold off his wards’ stock holdings and property without court authorization, and whom family members allege simply pocketed the money. After the state revoked the guardian’s license, judges transferred many of his guardianships to his wife.

Print, Non-Metro: Natalia Contreras and Krista M. Torralva of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times win for part of the paper’s “Behind Broken Doors” series that explored the city’s deadly domestic violence problem, revealed flaws in the justice system, and ultimately sparked action.

Broadcast, Major Metro: KXAN-TV’s Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Brian Collister, Ben Friberg, Joe Ellis, and Chad Cross win with “Border Splurge: Texas’ Billion-Dollar Drug War,” a nine-month series that analyzed 32,000 border arrest records. The reporting concluded that despite a $1.6 billion commitment of taxpayer dollars, few of those arrested on the border are considered to be high-threat criminals. The team reported that accounts from local law enforcement and drug seizures indicate drugs are still making their way across the border and into Central Texas.

No award was given in the Broadcast, Non-Metro category.

The State Bar of Texas features winner bios and links to the stories at

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ 2017 state conference will be held September 14 at the Hilton Austin, 500 E. Fourth St. This year’s theme is “Transparency = Real News.” The Texas Gavel Awards will be presented during the John Henry Faulk Awards Luncheon. For more information or to register for the conference, visit


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