Legal Education

50th Year of ABA Silver Gavel Awards

The Boston Globe won both an award and an honorable mention in the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Awards presented this week by ABA President Karen J. Mathis for outstanding legal journalism and drama that foster public understanding of the law.

The newspaper won a silver gavel for a series of newspaper articles on President George W. Bush’s practice of using so-called signing statements to change or even counteract federal legislation, and an honorable mention for another series documenting a “Debtor’s Hell” of modern-day collection practices. Other works honored this year–which marks the 50th anniversary of the awards program–include the Joseph Margulies book “Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power” and a Court TV program on “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.”

An awards program that lists all of the winners and provides excerpts of the text of award-winning works of journalism and fiction can be found on the American Bar Association’s Web site.

Particularly distinguished award-winners over the past 50 years include now-classic movies: Sidney Lumet’s jury room drama, “Twelve Angry Men” (a 1958 winner); “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1962), a fictionalized account of the post-World War II trials held by an international military tribunal in Germany of Nazi war criminals; and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1963), based on the Harper Lee Novel, about a white lawyer’s quest for justice for a black defendant at trial in the segregated South.

But award-winning “small screen” works–which have ranged, over the years, from the Perry Mason television show to a 2000 episode of “Law and Order”–are really the primary arena for legal drama, not to mention the legal education that the ABA is seeking to promote, says Howard Kaplan of the ABA Division for Public Education in an on-line discussion of the history of the awards. “From the very beginning,” he writes, “the Association has recognized that legal drama has an unmatched capacity to humanize legal actors and, well, dramatize legal issues for public audiences.”

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