Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee to host 32nd annual awards dinner on March 22, 2017 at the City Club in San Francisco

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017


The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards recognize Northern California organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and/or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment.

Former First Amendment Coalition executive director Peter Scheer wins the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement. Scheer led the advocacy organization, which is dedicated to free speech and open government, for more than 12 years before retiring in 2016. Before leading First Amendment Coalition, Scheer served as editor and publisher of The Recorder newspaper in San Francisco, publisher of Legal Times in Washington, DC, and CEO of legal information website Scheer’s award is named in memory of Norwin Yoffie, the former editor of the San Rafael Independent Journal, a co-founder of SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee, and a staunch advocate for transparency. Scheer will be honored along with other winners of the chapter’s James Madison Freedom of Information Awards on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at the City Club in San Francisco.

Tickets for the 2017 dinner are $55 for SPJ members, $75 for non-members, and $50 for students, and can be purchased via Eventbrite. Table and bar sponsorships are available. The evening will feature silent auctions for wine and books as well as raffles. 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 the Freedom of Information Committee for more information:

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

News Organization Award

KQED and the Sacramento Bee will receive awards in the News Organization category. KQED is honored for its investigation into the financial dealings and eventual removal of Hayward Police Chief Diane Stuart. A lawsuit filed by KQED forced the disclosure of 269 pages of records that showed Stuart’s husband Clark D. Stuart II was paid at least double what was due under a city contract, and may have exerted undue influence over city matters.

A Sacramento Bee investigation revealed that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi accepted questionable board seats, traveled first class on the university’s dime and spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars to manage her online image. The reporting led to a University of California investigation, followed by Katehi’s resignation in August of 2016.

Non-Profit Award

The Center for Media Justice wins the non-profit award. Since its founding in 2008, CMJ has become a powerful force connecting and empowering grassroots leaders who work in historically disenfranchised communities. In 2016, the organization took a leading role in advocacy efforts to resist mass surveillance, ensure access to and use of strong encryption, and to end the unconscionable fees for telephone service imposed on prisoners around the country.

Professional Journalist Award

Darwin BondGraham, Ali Winston and Thadeus Greenson are honored with the Professional Journalist Award.

Greenson, news editor of the North Coast Journal, fought a years-long battle with the City of Eureka over the release of police camera footage of an arrest. A state appeals court in July ruled that the video was in fact public record, a unanimous decision that upheld a lower court ruling and guaranteed the public’s right to know about law enforcement’s interaction with the community.

BondGraham and Winston overcame numerous obstacles to publish one of the biggest stories of 2016, an East Bay Express expose of the Oakland Police Department’s sexual exploitation of a minor and related misconduct, which made national headlines. BondGraham and Winston used public records, social media research and persistence to illustrate how OPD brass ignored the abuse. The journalists also weathered a leak investigation into the possible sources of their reporting, and scrupulously protected the privacy of the victim even when other outlets published her name.

Citizen Award

This year’s Citizen Award goes to Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of Signal, for developing a revolutionary privacy tool for journalists, activists and ordinary people who want to protect themselves against hacking and surveillance.

Signal is a robust cryptographic protocol rolled into any easy-to-use cross-platform secure messaging app. The app reportedly saw a 400% increase in downloads in the days following the 2016 presidential election. Also in 2016, WhatsApp incorporated the Signal protocol into its own popular application, meaning more than a billion people gained access to the best-in-class privacy technology overnight.

Whistleblower Awards

Kathleen Carroll and Tyler Shultz win Whistleblower Awards.

From 2006 through 2010, Kathleen Carroll was an attorney for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. CTC is responsible for licensing public school educators, setting standards for teacher training programs, investigating complaints of misconduct by teachers and imposing discipline. Carroll’s complaints of misconduct led to her dismissal by the CTC. Carroll’s allegations were substantiated in a 2011 audit of the Commission, and she was further vindicated last year when she won a whistlebower retaliation lawsuit related to her dismissal.
Carroll receives the award for shedding light on government misconduct and corporate incursions into a key democratic institution.

Shultz, a former Theranos employee, was the first to report to regulators internal manipulation at the company of lab testing results. Shortly after revealing his employer had violated the public’s trust in a novel blood-testing technology, Shultz became a confidential source for the Wall Street Journal. He was accused by Theranos of leaking trade secrets, and hounded by lawyers and private investigators hired by the company to track him. Shultz, the grandson of a Theranos director, never caved to the pressure, and in November agreed to tell his story publicly, including details of the difficult situation his role in exposing the truth created within his own family.

Public Official Award

San Francisco Ethics Commission Vice Chair Peter Keane wins the Public Official Award. In 2016, Keane was the motivating force for new open government laws and new openness at the Commission. He led a public effort to protect the agency’s budget from cuts, that would have reduced its work and instead he helped the Commission achieve a significant increase that will result in new investigators, new transparency efforts, and stronger accountability.

Beverly Kees Educator Award

Jean Retzinger wins this year’s Beverly Kees Educator Award. Retzinger is a lecturer and the assistant director of the Media Studies Department at UC Berkeley, where she has taught for the past 22 years. Retzinger helped shape the department into a crucible for critical thinking and media literacy, and has empowered a generation of students who have gone on to careers in journalism, law, communications, government and more.

Student Award

Jack Simpson, Abby James, Kallie Hukari, and Daniel Law win Student Awards. The four students from the Tamalpias High School Academy of Integrated Humanities and New Media investigated funding inequities between two schools in the Sausalito-Marin school district. Martin Luther King elementary school in Marin City, which educates mostly students of color, received less funding than the only other elementary school, a charter school that is mostly white. News organizations had published brief stories on the disparity but the students delved much deeper. They put together a solid, well-edited and well-filmed story of the unequal treatment between the schools that has gone largely ignored in the district, and navigating a sensitive topic with sensitivity and fearlessness.

Legal Counsel

Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell wins the Legal Counsel award for his principled and proactive fight against the FBI’s efforts in 2016 to weaken encryption. The mathematics underpinning encryption means it can only work if it is secure without exception. If successful, the FBI’s short-sighted efforts would have put countless journalists, sources and readers at risk around the world, and made it even easier for state and non-state actors to hack news organizations. Led by Sewell, Apple took a public stand for all of its users, including journalists and others who might commit acts of journalism.

For additional information about the awards, winners, or awards dinner, please email the SPJ NorCal FOI Committee at