Los Angeles Times Wins 2023 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability
A series about failures by the State Bar of California to regulate and enforce the integrity of lawyers in the state earned the Los Angeles Times the 2023 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability. The $25,000 award, offered by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is one of the largest journalism prizes in the nation.
The prize will be awarded at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday, April 29, 2023.
The winning series from reporters Harriet Ryan and Matt Hamilton documented shortcomings in the Bar’s regulation of lawyers in a two-year investigation that culminated last year. The stories demonstrated the many ways that feeble, and at times non-existent, regulation had enabled the exploitation of the vulnerable and the corruption of the court system by wealthy and powerful lawyers.
The reporting resulted in reforms, government investigations, increased transparency and new legislation, including a full-scale overhaul of the Bar’s discipline system, a series of investigations into high-profile lawyers, and new regulations governing the bank accounts that hold client settlement money. The State Bar also agreed to support a new mandatory reporting law that would require lawyers to turn in colleagues who commit misconduct.
According to one prize judge: “Justice is supposed to be blind, but when it comes to the California State Bar, the reporters were able to conclusively show how African-American lawyers were met with unequal treatment for relatively minor infractions while white attorneys were able to skate.” Another judge commented, “Bravo to the Times team for unraveling this tangled web of corruption and exposing how the wealthy could get away with it for years.”
Second place was awarded to the Miami Herald for an exposé by reporters Sarah Blaskey, Ana Ceballos, Mary Ellen Klas, Carl Juste and Nicholas Nehamas uncovering details of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to fly 49 South American asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard as part of what he described as a political statement about immigration enforcement.
In efforts to tell the origin story of the transportation, Miami Herald journalists traveled to Eagle Pass, Texas, where migrants cross the border by the hundreds and thousands every day, and to San Antonio, where workers for a state contractor had recruited the migrants for the flights – as well as to the Florida Panhandle, where the state contractor was based.
One judge commented that the “details of the deception of the vulnerable migrants are appalling. The investigation did a remarkable job of getting interviews with impacted asylum seekers. Though the story became national news, the Herald told rich stories showcasing the human toll and connecting the dots to Florida’s governor.”
Third place was awarded to The Marshall Project, NBC News and ProPublica for exposing abusive conditions inside a Louisiana state facility for juvenile offenders that were considered troublemakers. The investigation by Beth Schwartzapfel and Celina Fang of The Marshall Project, Erin Einhorn of NBC News, and Annie Waldman of ProPublica, documented the mistreatment of teens and demonstrated that this harsh approach to confinement was ineffective.
The story, published in March 2022, brought the conditions at the facility into the open, triggering an immediate debate about solitary confinement for youth in Louisiana. Ultimately, the state juvenile justice director threw his support behind a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement in Louisiana’s juvenile facilities, which won overwhelming support in the Louisiana House and Senate.
One judge commented that the “eye-opening investigative story was well-constructed, documented, reported and written. The horrific conditions described and imposed on mostly Black children in America’s juvenile correctional facilities are heartbreaking. Through meticulous research, interviews and old-fashioned leg work, a groundbreaking expose was produced, prompting legislative actions and steps to end it. Bravo!”
The more than 70 Collier Prize entries bucked the trend in declining local state news coverage. The winners’ stories resulted in genuine reforms and resignations. The Collier Prize was founded by Nathan S. Collier, chair of The Collier Companies headquartered in Gainesville, Florida, to encourage coverage of state government, focusing on investigative and political reporting. Collier is a descendant of Peter Fenelon Collier, who in 1888 founded Collier’s, a weekly magazine focused on investigative journalism.