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May 20, 2020

American Bar Association names 2020 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2020 —The American Bar Association today announced its selections for the 2020 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts, which recognize outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system. This is the ABA’s highest honor in recognition of this purpose. 

The Gavel Awards are highly selective — this year the ABA is presenting only six Silver Gavels and five Honorable Mentions among 23 finalists identified from 188 entries received in all eligible categories, which include books, commentary, documentaries, drama and literature, magazines, multimedia, newspapers, radio and television.

No more than one Silver Gavel is presented in each category.

The work being recognized focuses on such matters as, court secrecy and open justice, racial justice, criminal justice system reforms, and women’s rights.

The 2020 Silver Gavel award winners are:

  • “Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration,” in which author Emily Bazelon presents a probing critique of the American criminal justice system and tells the story of reform-minded DAs and the movement for change.
  • “Debtors Prison,” powerful commentary by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger about Missourians being jailed, essentially, for being poor.
  • “Personhood,” a thought-provoking documentary about reproductive rights that examines an expanding set of laws that criminalize and police pregnant women.
  • “Just Mercy,” a fact-based film drama about civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his fight to exonerate Alabama death-row inmate Walter McMillian.
  • “Hidden Injustice,” a Reuters newspaper investigative series about “how U.S. courts cover up deadly secrets” by allowing litigants to seal court evidence in cases affecting public health and safety.
  • “In the Dark: Season Two-The Path Home,” a podcast series by American Public Media, whose tenacious investigation into the case of  Curtis Flowers, a black man in Mississippi,  led to the U.S. Supreme Court and then to his 2019 release from prison on bond, after six trials and four death sentences.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing, the 2020 ABA Silver Gavel Awards will not be presented in-person at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., as originally scheduled. Instead, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez will present the Gavel Awards as a virtual event to premiere on Tuesday, July 21 at 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT/3 p.m. MT/2 p.m. PT.

Selection criteria include: how the entry addresses the Silver Gavel Awards’ purpose and objectives; educational value of legal information; impact on, or outreach to, the public; thoroughness and accuracy in presentation of issues; creativity and originality in approach to subject matter and effectiveness of presentation; and demonstrated technical skill in the entry’s production.          

“The American Bar Association engages in a deliberative and thorough judging process to select winners of the Silver Gavel Awards,” said Sharon Stern Gerstman, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards. “We congratulate all of our 2020 awardees for their exceptional efforts to advance the American public’s understanding of law.”

The association has presented these awards each year since 1958. The 18-member ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards makes the final award decisions. To learn more about the Silver Gavel Awards, go to

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


“Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration”
Emily Bazelon, author
Penguin Random House


“Debtors Prison”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Marcia Koenig, metro editor
Tony Messenger, metro columnist


Personhood Documentary, LLC
Tandybrook Films and Wanderhouse
Jo Ardinger, director, producer, writer, editor
Rosalie Miller, producer
Marc Pingry, director of photography
Stefan Hajek, consulting producer

Drama & Literature

“Just Mercy”
Warner Bros. Pictures with Endeavor Content, One Community, Participant, Macro, Netter Productions, and Outlier Society
Destin Daniel Cretton, director and writer
Gil Netter, producer
Asher Goldstein, producer


“Hidden Injustice”
Dan Levine, Lisa Girion, Benjamin Lesser
Jaimi Dowdell, and Michelle Conlin Correspondents


“In the Dark: Season Two-The Path Home”
American Public MediaMadeleine Baran, host and lead reporter
Samara Freemark, senior reporter
Natalie Jablonski, producer
Parker Yesko, reporter
Rehman Tungekar, associate producer
Will Craft, data reporter



“No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us”
Rachel Louise Snyder, author
Bloomsbury Publishing


“Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066”
JJML Productions LLC
Jon Osaki, director, producer, and editor
Lauren Kawana, consulting producer


“True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality”
HBO and Kunhardt Films
George Kunhardt, Peter Kunhardt, and Teddy Kunhardt, directors and producers
Maya Mumma, editor and producer


“Broken Justice”
PBS NewsHour
Amna Nawaz, host
Frank Carlson, reporter
Vika Aronson, podcast producer
Erica R. Hendry and Emily Carpeaux, editors


“The Feeling of Being Watched”
POV | American Documentary and Multitude Films
Assia Boundaoui, director and producer
Jessica Devaney, producer
Rabab Haj Yahya, editor
Shuling Yong, director of photography
Justine Nagan and Chris White, executive producers



“A Place Outside the Law: Forgotten Voices from Guantanamo”
Peter Jan Honigsberg, author
Beacon Press

“Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness”
Jennifer Berry Hawes, author
St. Martin’s Publishing Group

“Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety”
Timothy D. Lytton, author
The University of Chicago Press

“The Trials of Allegiance: Treason, Juries, and the American Revolution”
Carlton F.W. Larson, author
Oxford University Press


“An American Black Site”
Type Media Center and The Nation
Aviva Stahl, freelance journalist


“Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation”
Auburn University and Backstory Educational Media
Steven Brown, professor of political science
Phillip Ratliff, founder and principal


“Crack vs. Heroin: An unfair system arrested millions of blacks, urged compassion for whites”
Asbury Park Press
Paul D’Ambrosio, executive editor
Shannon Mullen, Austin Bogues, and Andrew Goudsward, staff writers
Lisa Kruse, breaking news editor


“Pardon Me”
Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting
Michael Schiller, creative director
Taki Telonidis, senior supervising editor
Al Letson, radio show host
Anna Hamilton, segment producer
Kevin Sullivan, executive producer

“Unprecedented Season 1 – A Thousand Ways to Kill You”
Michael Vuolo and Matthew Schwartz, hosts and writers
Poncie Rutsch, senior producer, podcasts
Andi McDaniel, senior director, content & news
Ben Privot, audio engineer & sound designer


“Blowin’ Up”
POV | American Documentary and Once in a Blue Films
Stephanie Wang-Breal, director
Carrie Weprin, producer
Jonathan Oppenheim, editor
Erik Shirai, director of photography
Justine Nagan and Chris White, executive producers

“60 Minutes: "This is No Ordinary Lawsuit”
CBS News
Steve Kroft, correspondent
Draggan Mihailovich, producer
Katie Brennan and Chrissy Jones, associate producers
Warren Lustig, editor

“60 Minutes: Know My Name”
CBS News
Bill Whitaker, correspondent
Graham Messick and Jack Weingart, producers
Matthew Lev, editor

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.