American Bar Association awards

2019 Harper Lee Prize finalists named for legal fiction; voting open to public

The ABA Journal and the University of Alabama School of Law have announced the finalists for the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

The three books chosen to compete for the prize are: “The Boat People” by Sharon Bala, “Class Action” by Steven B. Frank and “The Widows of Malabar Hill” by Sujata Massey.

“This year’s Harper Lee Prize was particularly difficult to judge,” said Molly McDonough, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. “We were evaluating so many gripping and compelling reads. The finalists represent the diversity of this year’s submissions, from a novel about Sri Lankan refugees seeking a new start, to the story of a trailblazing woman lawyer fighting for her clients in 1920s India, and, finally, a charming middle school book featuring a spunky student who goes to court after he’s suspended for protesting homework. The characters are as inspiring as they are engaging.”

The prize, previously authorized by the late Lee, is given annually to a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.

Nine years ago, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to honor former University of Alabama law student and author Harper Lee, The University of Alabama Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law and the ABA Journal partnered to create The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

There were 25 entries for the prize this year, and a team of reviewers chose three books for the selection committee’s consideration. The public is invited to cast votes on the ABA Journal website to help determine who the winning author will be. The public will act as the sixth judge, contributing a vote equal in weight to the selection committee members.

To vote, visit:

Voting is open until June 30 at 11:59 p.m. Central.

The 2019 prize will be awarded Aug. 29 at the Library of Congress in conjunction with National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced prior to the ceremony and will receive a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” signed by Harper Lee.

A distinguished panel of writers and scholars selects the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. They are: Robert Barnes, U.S. Supreme Court reporter, The Washington Post; Steven Hobbs, Tom Bevill Chairholder of Law, UA’s Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law; Claire Matturro, alumna, UA’s Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law; Utz McKnight, chair of the department of gender and race studies and professor of political science, UA; and Gin Phillips, author, “Fierce Kingdom.”

– American Bar Association


American Bar Association announces 2019 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts

The American Bar Association announced its selections for the 2019 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 work being recognized focuses on such matters as the 19th Amendment, untested rape kits, cash-advance companies, bad cops and campaign contributions.

The winners are:

“The Woman’s Hour,” in which author Elaine Weiss tells the dramatic story of the climactic vote in Tennessee in the summer of 1920 to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women a national right to vote.

“I Am Evidence,” an HBO documentary that presents a powerful story – featuring legal advocates and courageous sexual-assault survivors from Detroit, Cleveland, and Los Angeles – about the shameful backlog of untested rape kits, why it matters and what can be done to address this national problem.

“Sign Here to Lose Everything,” a Bloomberg investigation that exposes how cash-advance companies, relying on an arcane legal document known as a “confession of judgment,” exploited the New York courts to obtain more than 25,000 judgments worth $1.5 billion against borrowers who had unwittingly signed away their due process rights.

“Protecting the Shield,” a 19-part newspaper series by the Asbury Park Press that exhaustively documents how New Jersey’s fragmented police oversight system regularly allowed known “bad” cops to remain on the job, with tragic human and severe financial consequences.

“Dark Money,” a PBS POV television documentary that focuses on the state of Montana to probe the troubling influence of “dark money” – unlimited campaign contributions from undisclosed corporate and individual donors – and to ponder the consequences of these practices for our electoral democracy.


ABA President Bob Carlson will present Silver Gavels and Honorable Mentions on July 16 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The ABA will present five Silver Gavels and three honorable mentions from 164 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.

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 undertakes a rigorous judging process each year to select winners of the Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts,” said Stephen C. Edds, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards. “Each of the awardees is truly deserving. We congratulate all of the 2019 awardees for their extraordinary efforts to further 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 and honorable mentions with a link to their work:


Silver Gavel

“The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote”

Elaine Weiss, author

Penguin Random House/Viking

Honorable Mention

“The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind”

Justin Driver, author

Penguin Random House/Pantheon Books


Silver Gavel

“I Am Evidence”

Shelved, LLC for HBO Documentary Films

Trish Adlesic, co-director and producer

Mariska Hargitay, producer

Geeta Gandbhir, co-director and supervising editor

Honorable Mention


Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media and CNN Films

Betsy West, director and producer

Julie Cohen, director and producer


Silver Gavel

“Sign Here to Lose Everything”


Zachary Mider, reporter

Zeke Faux, reporter

David Ingold, data analyst

Demetrios Pogkas, data analyst


Silver Gavel

“Protecting the Shield”

Asbury Park Press

Paul D’Ambrosio, investigations director

Andrew Ford, Kala Kachmar, Susanne Cervenka, Alex Gecan, Ken Serrano,

staff writers

Honorable Mention

“Denied Justice”

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.)

Brandon Stahl, reporter

Jennifer Bjorhus, reporter

MaryJo Webster, data editor

Renee Jones Schneider, photo journalist


Silver Gavel

“Dark Money”

American Documentary/POV and PBS Distribution

Big Sky Film Productions with Big Mouth Productions and Meerkat Media Collective

Kimberly Reed, director, writer and producer

Katy Chevigny, producer

Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, writer and editor

Justine Nagan and Chris White,

executive producers, POV

– American Bar Association

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