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Featured: Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, whose proposal to create a public law school in the Rio Grande Valley was approved by the Texas House of Representatives on Monday, May 1, 2019 – but was never scheduled for action in the Texas Senate – is one of six area state lawmakers who are scheduled to highlight a “Legislative Press Conference” in Edinburg on Thursday, August 15, 2019.

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

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Area state lawmakers to participate in “Legislative Press Conference” at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance from 10:15 to 11 a.m. on Thursday

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

The majority of the Rio Grande Valley’s state legislative delegation will be in Edinburg on Thursday morning, August 15, 2019, to participate in a “Legislative Press Conference” being sponsored by the Mayor and Edinburg City Council and coordinated by Patrick Eronini, the city’s recently-appointed Governmental Relations Liaison.

The event, which will take place from 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., will be held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, 118 Paseo Del Prado, in Edinburg.

Scheduled to participate in the press gathering, which is open to the public, are: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen.

For more information on the event, Eronini may be reached at peronini@cityofedinburg.com or at 956/369-9619.

No specific items for discussion have yet been announced by city officials, although the state lawmakers answer all questions from the news media and public in attendance.

Transparency in government may be one of the issues brought up during the public gathering, as well as the roles of the press and and citizens in providing news coverage of public officials in the state.

In a recent development related to the news media, the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 announced the winners of the 2019 Texas Gavel Awards. The awards honor journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.

Texas Gavel Awards recognize excellence in journalism that educates the public about the rule of law, the legal profession, and the judicial branch of government; and discloses practices or procedures needing correction to improve the practice of law, the courts, or the justice system.

Entries published or broadcast during the 2018 calendar year were accepted for print, broadcast, and online categories by Monday, April 8, 2019. There was no entry fee.

The Texas Gavel Awards program is coordinated and sponsored by the State Bar of Texas Public Affairs Committee. An independent panel of professionals will judge the entries. The awards will be presented at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ annual conference in September.

The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the state’s judicial branch that provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the Minimum Continuing Legal Education program for attorneys, and manages the grievance process.

Details of the 2019 recipients of the Texas Gavel Award, according to the State Bar of Texas, follow:

Online-only Category:
Emma Platoff
The Texas Tribune

Emma Platoff of the Texas Tribune wins for a series of articles that explored Texas’ system of partisan judicial elections. Among the issues she covered were:

• The perception, true or not, that judges are inclined to lean a certain way on the law based on their ideology;
• Ethical issues related to seeking campaign donations from lawyers who may come before the court;
• The low name recognition for judicial candidates, even at the highest levels of the state’s judiciary; and
• The possibility for partisan sweeps that can propel inexperienced judges into office based not on qualifications but on party affiliation.

Platoff covers the interaction of justice and politics for The Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She is a recent graduate of Yale University, where she worked as managing editor of the Yale Daily News. Here is her winning series:

He’s been a Texas Supreme Court justice for a month. Now Jimmy Blacklock must become a candidate.
In Texas Republican judicial primaries, do Hispanic-sounding surnames spell loss?
In campaigns for Texas’ top courts, judicial candidates must rely on party ID
In midterms, Democrats see a chance to disrupt GOP dominance of state appeals courts
Texas Democrats’ biggest win on election night may have been the courts

Broadcast Category — Major Metro Category:
Josh Hinkle, Sarah Rafique, and Andrew Choat of KXAN

This KXAN (Austin) investigative team wins for Denied — an investigation that began with questions about how a teenager, detained in the back of an Austin police cruiser, obtained a gun and shot himself and developed into the discovery of a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold the details of incidents such as this from the public and even families of the deceased for decades.

As part of its investigation, KXAN researched the state’s 21 largest law enforcement agencies and found that at least 154 public information requests related to 52 in-custody deaths were denied under that loophole.

Hinkleis the executive producer of KXAN’s duPont and IRE Award-winning investigative team. He also leads the station’s political coverage as an investigative reporter and as the executive producer and host of “State of Texas,” a weekly statewide program devoted to coverage of the Texas Legislature and elections. His work on the show was honored twice with the national Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism for coverage of the women’s health debate and for an exposé on border security funding.

Rafique is an investigative reporter at KXAN. In 2017, her work exposing questionable billing tactics of Texas’ tollway system won both a Lone Star Emmy and the Headliners Foundation of Texas’ Showcase Award for Enterprise & Innovation. She previously worked as a reporter at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Killeen Daily Herald.

Choat is a special projects photographer at KXAN. He works with the station’s investigative team on a variety of innovative projects across multiple platforms. Before coming to Austin, he was chief photographer at KTAB in Abilene. Previously, he served as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in the United States Navy, responsible for all operational and administrative aspects of a submarine’s computer and control mechanisms used for underwater surveillance and scientific data collection.

Broadcast — Non-Metro Category:
Jessica Savage, KRIS

Jessica Savage of KRIS 6 News in Corpus Christi wins for a trio of stories following a Nueces County woman’s five-year fight to have her day in court while the defendant in the criminal case employed delaying tactics in a crowded court system.

Savage is an investigative reporter for KRIS 6 News. She previously worked as a staff writer for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and Lufkin Daily News where her work received top accolades from Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University.

Here is her winning series:

Woman wants justice after years of court delays
Judge delays trial for man charged in high-speed crash
After years of delays, car crash victim receives closure

Print — Major Metro Category:
Steve Knopper
Super Lawyers Magazine, Thomson Reuters

Steve Knopper wins for his Super Lawyers Magazine feature ‘You’re Just Ready’ in which seven Texas lawyers tell — in their own words — what it’s like to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Knopper is a regular contributor to Super Lawyers Magazine, as well as a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and author of MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson and Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Business in the Digital Age. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Fortune, New York, and more.

Print — Non-Metro Category:
Jessica Priest
Victoria Advocate

Jessica Priest of the Victoria Advocate wins for a series of stories covering the Calhoun County Port Authority after it hired former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist in May 2018. Farenthold resigned from Congress after an ethics inquiry began about allegations of sexual harassment and that he used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a staffer.

Priest’s reporting uncovered that the board’s action may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led to the newspaper filing a lawsuit against the Port Authority. Priest also highlighted a general lack of oversight for ports and special purpose taxing districts. She reported on the Calhoun Port Authority board’s conflicts of interest, its one-of-kind retirement plan, and a trip to Chile. Farenthold resigned from his port position in January 2019.

As a journalist at the Advocate, Priest has moved from covering the dramas playing out in South Texas courtrooms to writing about a lack of mental healthcare in the area. She now covers communities fighting for clean air and water. Her work has garnered several Texas Associated Press Managing Editors awards.

Here is her 2019 winning series called “Port Politics:”

Farenthold hiring may be illegal
Port Politics
Judge, attorney debate open meetings suit
Port perks investigation
Board members spend $19K on Chile trip

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Amy Stanes contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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