August 08, 2017

ABA celebrates 60th presentation of Silver Gavel Awards

The 60th annual presentation of the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts on July 18 honored professionals whose subject matter explored complex legal topics such as housing evictions, militarized police forces, abortion and the U.S. Supreme Court.

left to right: President Linda A. Klein; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; Craig Atkinson, director, cinematography and co-editor, and Laura Hartrick, producer and co-editor of the documentary, “Do Not Resist”; Elie Mystal, legal editor at WNYC Studios, recognized for “Radiolab Presents: More Perfect”; featured speaker Brooke Gladstone, managing editor and co-host, “On the Media,” WNYC Public Radio; and Donna Purchase and Deborah Porter Smith, the mother and sister of recipient Dawn Porter, director of the film “Trapped,” and Dr. Willie Parker, who was featured in the film.

Conferred at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Silver Gavel Awards recognize outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system.

The 2017 recipients are:

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, in which author Matthew Desmond tells the story of eight Milwaukee families to show that eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty and argues that decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for all Americans.
  • Do Not Resist,” a documentary exploring the present and future of law enforcement in the United States, from Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown to the “militarization” of police forces to the impact of new technologies. 
  • More Perfect, a 5-episode radio podcast series examining landmark cases from Marbury v. Madison to Batson v. Kentucky to illuminate how the Supreme Court shapes American democracy.
  • Trapped,” a television documentary that probes the impact of state TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) statutes on reproductive health clinic workers and relates how they and their lawyers challenged these laws in federal court (Whole Woman’s Health V. Hellerstedt).

“The Silver Gavel Awards are one of the American Bar Association’s most beloved and significant annual traditions,” said ABA President Linda Klein, who congratulated the winners for advancing the public’s understanding of the law.

Klein added that the award’s rich history includes recipients such as Sidney Lumet’s 1958 classic jury room drama, “12 Angry Men”, from United Artists; a 1965, Fred Friendly’s CBS Reports documentary, “Gideon’s Trumpet,” which was written by Anthony Lewis; and the 2016 Netflix documentary, “Making a Murderer.”

Brooke Gladstone, managing editor and co-host of public radio’s “On the Media,” was the featured speaker at the awards ceremony.

Gladstone shared on the importance of preserving democracy at a time when it seems to be in a decline.

She said she gets asked a lot about her views on the president’s attacks on the press.

“I think this is one room where I don’t have to explain, this isn’t an attack on the media, but on the very nature of truth,” Gladstone said.

She referenced President Trump’s comments saying the, “entire institution of the free press is a special interest.”

Speaking on Trump, she said, “The sheer abundance of the president’s lies demonstrates again and again that facts are disposable [to him.]… By degrading the very notion of shared reality, Trump is trying to disable the engine of democracy.”

“When truth is little more than an arbitrary decision, there is no common ground to be reached and there’s no incentive to look for it. It just becomes a kind of order of the jungle struggle and that is probably the moral panic people feel right now.”

Gladstone said Silver Gavel winners all addressed some aspect of justice — the poor and social justice, criminal justice, codification of justice and the defense of justice.

She commended the winners on their efforts to help people understand the law. She said that lawyers and the media have a job to do.

Although many people say that they “hate” lawyers and media, “Ours maybe the only two institutions that can provide any bulwark against the threats of our democracy,” Gladstone said.

To view videos from the Silver Gavel Awards presentation, click here.

The association has presented these awards annually since 1958. The 18-member Standing Committee on Public Education, chaired by Stephen C. Edds, makes final award decisions.

The ABA Silver Gavel Awards program is organized by the ABA Division for Public Education.  To learn more about the Silver Gavel Awards, go to

The following is a complete list of Silver Gavel winners and honorable mentions with a link to their work:

Silver Gavel

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”
Matthew Desmond, author
Penguin Random House/Crown Publishers

Honorable Mention
“Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy”
Heather Ann Thompson, author
Penguin Random House/Pantheon Books

Silver Gavel

“Do Not Resist”
Craig Atkinson, director
Laura Hartrick, producer

Honorable Mention

“Forsaken: Florida's Broken Mental Health System”
Sun Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
Dana Banker, managing editor
Megan O’Matz, Sally Kestin, and Stephen Hobbs, reporters
John Maines, database editor

Silver Gavel

“More Perfect”
WNYC Studios
Jad Abumrad, executive producer, host, creator
Suzie Lechtenberg, executive producer
Kelsey Padgett, producer, reporter
Sean Rameswaram, correspondent
Tobin Low, producer

Silver Gavel

Trilogy Films
Dawn Porter, director
Marilyn Ness, producer