Three winners named for McCree Journalism Awards

Journalism projects that examined, explained and exposed problems and important issues in law enforcement and the legal system were named winners of the 44th annual Wade H. McCree Advancement of Justice Awards, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association Foundation.

The awards were determined by a panel of four judges, representing law and media, who independently reviewed more than two dozen entries from across Michigan.

The winners announced on Monday were:

• Investigative Reporter Heather Catallo, Videographer Johnny N. Sartin Jr. and Editor Randy Lundquist of WXYZ-TV, Detroit, for a year-long investigation into corrupt lawyers and real estate agents using the probate court system to pre-empt legitimate heirs and take property or collect thousands of dollars from the estates of deceased people.

The WXYZ-TV reports prompted investigations by the FBI, county authorities and the Attorney Grievance Commission, plus the ouster or resignation of three public officials. It also inspired legislation to fix the system.

• Reporters Jim Schaefer and Gina Kaufman of the Detroit Free Press for an in-depth review of problem police officers across southeast Michigan and practices that enable them to keep working, often in other communities.

The report showed how lax oversight of police officers in Michigan puts citizens at risk and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuits.
The project involved dozens of persistent requests for disciplinary information from reluctant police departments.

• Reporter Mike Martindale of the Detroit News for his coverage of a court ruling in which a twice-convicted rapist was granted partial custody of a child conceived during his sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl.

The judge — who rescinded his ruling — and the prosecutor involved both vowed to take action to avoid a repeat of such situations. The prosecutor also apologized for how the case was handled. Martindale’s work shed important light on how public agencies and the court system work – and sometimes don’t – for the public they are supposed to serve.

The McCree awards are named for Judge Wade H. McCree (1920-87) one of the most distinguished lawyers and jurists in Michigan history and a staunch advocate for equal rights and open, accountable government.

McCree served as a circuit, federal and U.S. Appeals court judge and, from 1977-81, as solicitor general of the United States.

The McCree awards are based on the significance and informative level of the journalism, plus its impact on changing and improving the legal and law enforcement systems.

The awards will be presented April 15 as part of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Kellogg Center at Michigan State University.