Winners announced for 2015 James Madison Freedom of Information Award

Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee to host 30th Annual awards dinner on March 12, 2015 at the San Francisco City Club

For Immediate Release:

Retiring Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Shari Steele, known for her tireless advocacy of free speech rights on the Internet and support of traditional and nontraditional journalists working online, has been named winner of the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Steele will be honored along with other winners of the chapter’s James Madison Freedom of Information Awards on Thursday, March 12, in San Francisco. Other winners include a high school journalism teacher who defended her students’ right to publish in the face of censorship from their principal; a photographer arrested by the state Highway Patrol for attempting to photograph protesters who chained themselves to construction equipment, investigative reporters who used public records to uncover the forced sterilization of female inmates in California prisons, the drugging of foster children with state approval, a municipal government that won a lawsuit forcing the release of tens of thousands of emails between a major utility company and state regulators that showed improper communications and cozy relationships, and a American Civil Liberties Union attorney who defended Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the nightclub act of Lenny Bruce. In all, 16 awards will be given in 12 categories. Steele’s award is named in memory of Norwin Yoffie, the former editor of the San Rafael Independent Journal and a co-founder of SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee, who was also a staunch advocate for transparency.

Tickets for the 2015 dinner are $55 for SPJ members and students and $75 for non-members, and can be purchased via eventbrite. Table sponsorships are available. The City Club is located at 155 Sansome Street in San Francisco. The festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a no-host bar. Contact Freedom of Information co-chairs Thomas Peele at and Geoffrey King at for more information.

In addition to Steele, this year’s honorees are:

  • Diane Keaton and Pam MacLean, both journalists who will receive special citations for their years of dedicated service to SPJ NorCal and the James Madison Awards.
  • Kathi Duffel, the adviser to The Bruin Voice of Bear Creek High School in Stockton, will receive the Educator Award. Duffel guided student journalists through censorship battles with their principal, led the paper to national awards and has been an unwavering supporter of the paper’s independence and First Amendment rights.
  • The Government of the City of San Bruno, will receive the slightly modified Public Official Award to honor Mayor Jim Raune, City Manager Connie Jackson and other leaders for a Public Records Act lawsuit that forced the disclosure of tens of thousands of California Public Utility Commission emails that showed unethical relationships between CPUC staff and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executives following the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in which eight people were killed.
  • Matt Bors, a nationally syndicated political cartoonist, wins the Cartoonist Award both for his own work and a website he runs, The Nib, which features political cartoons, comics journalism and humor.
  • Harriet Rowan, of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism wins the Student Award. Rowan’s extensive use of campaign finance reports in her reportage for the news website Richmond Confidential exposed the Chevron Corporation’s multi-million dollar effort to sway voters to elect pro-Chevron candidates in the 2014 municipal elections in Richmond, where the oil giant owns a refinery. Chevron’s efforts failed.
  • The Internet Archive wins the Nonprofit Award for its ongoing mission to provide permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities and the general public to historical collections in digital format.
  • Albert M. Bendich wins, posthumously, the Attorney Award. Bendich, then working for the American Civil Liberties Union, won two of the 20th century’s landmark First Amendment cases involving profanity, defending the rights of Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Bookstore to sell Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” in book form and the comedian Lenny Bruce’s right to say what he wanted in his nightclub act. Bendich, an Oakland resident, died in January at the age of 85.
  • Ted Smith, a San Jose activist, will receive the Citizen Award. Smith is the plaintiff in perhaps the most important California Public Records Act litigation in recent years. He won a Santa Clara Superior Court ruling in 2013 that public business conducted by San Jose city staff on private email accounts was public record. But that decision was overturned on appeal last year. Now, the California Supreme Court has agreed to take up the matter later this year.
  • Staci Plummer, a Richmond city employee, and LaVonda Atkinson, a San Francisco city employee, will each receive a Whistleblower Award for exposing wrongdoing in her city government. Plummer publically revealed in 2013 that Richmond’s finance director was running a gift-basket business from city hall. The director retired and Plummer has remained an advocate for more transparency in Richmond. Atkinson, was just weeks into her job as cost engineer on San Francisco’s $1.58 billion Central Subway project when she exposed tens of millions of dollars in serious financial irregularities through the city whistleblower program and turning over a trove of documents to a journalist.
  • Stephen Ernest Eberhard, of the Willits News, wins the inaugural Photojournalist Award for his efforts to document protests over a controversial highway construction project. After enduring months of harassment from police for his coverage, Eberhard, clearly wearing press credentials, arrived at an early morning protest to make pictures. He was captured on video walking up to a CHP Officer and shaking his hand. But moments later, Eberhard, was arrested and jailed. He is suing the CHP in federal court.
  • Corey G. Johnson, Karen de Sá, Dave Gilson, Susanne Rust and Matt Drange, will each receive a journalism award. Johnson, formerly of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and now with the Marshall Project, used extensive public records in a lengthy investigation of the forced sterilization of female inmates in California prisons; de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News and the Bay Area News Group, used a decade’s worth of hidden state data detailing how children in the California foster system were systematically drugged with psychotropic medications, which were often not approved for juveniles, for her five-part series “Drugging Our Kids”; Gilson, of Mother Jones, used decades-old court records to document the forgotten  50-year-old murder conviction of the general counsel of the National Rifle Association, a killing committed with a firearm; Rust, formerly of the Center for Investigative Reporting and now with the Columbia Journalism School, and Drange, currently of CIR, will each receive an award for their exposure of how authorities’ mismanagement of Superfund cleanup sites often leads to substantially more harm than good.