Washington, DC (May 20, 1996) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) on Tuesday evening, May 21, will present its Champion of Justice Awards to three outstanding members of Congress and three exceptional journalists, to honor their professional contributions in defending Americans' constitutional rights.
At a Capitol Hill reception, part of NACDL's Fifth Annual Legislative Fly-In, NACDL President Robert Fogelnest will present the awards to Senators Mark Hatfield (R-OR) and Paul Simon (D-IL), Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), USA Today Reporters Dennis Cauchon and Sam Meddis, and Chattanooga Times Reporter Mark Curriden. (The reception, open to media, will be in Room B-354 of the Rayburn House Office Building, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.)
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Hatfield has been a staunch defender of constitutional liberties throughout his 30 years in the U.S. Senate. A believer in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for even the poorest among us, he has consistently supported funding to ensure adequate defense for indigent Americans. He has courageously opposed the death penalty, even as his colleagues voted two years ago to dramatically expand the number of federal crimes punishable by death. And he was one of only eight U.S. senators - and the sole Republican - who voted against the recent so-called "antiterrorism" bill, refusing to join his colleagues in sacrificing Americans' constitutional liberties to the vagaries of current polling results about street crime.
Senator Paul Simon, former chairman and now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommittee, has consistently advocated prevention-oriented crime policies during his 12 years in the Senate. An opponent of harsh, ineffective mandatory minimum sentences, he advanced the debate over crime policy by commissioning in December 1994 a survey of the nation's prison wardens. Thanks to Sen. Simon, the American public learned that 92 percent of prison wardens favor alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent criminal offenders, and 90 percent urge that more resources be devoted to in-prison drug treatment, education, and vocational training. Senator Simon, too, has courageously opposed the death penalty.
Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, the longest-serving woman in the House (24 years) and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee's Courts Subcommittee, has frequently taken the lead in fighting for rational approaches to America's crime problems. During the debate over the 1994 crime bill, she took up the cause of midnight basketball as an effective means of diverting at-risk youth in crime-ridden urban communities from involvement with crime. Rep. Shroeder has been a staunch opponent of the various "Contract with America" crime bills that would nullify fundamental liberties guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.
Like Hatfield, Simon and Schroeder were among the few courageous members of Congress who voted against the recently-passed antiterrorism bill, with its unprecedented curtailment of Americans' rights to seek justice in federal courts through the great writ of habeas corpus
USA Today Reporter (now editor) Dennis Cauchon has consistently brought to his excellent reporting on criminal justice matters a keen interest in focusing public attention on poignant issues of fairness. NACDL's award honors Dennis' insightful articles, especially his seven-part series, "Asset Forfeitures Are Legalized Theft; Government Doesn't Have to Prove Guilt" (May 18, 1992); his May 26, 1993, cover story, "Balanced Justice? Sentences for Crack Called Racist;" and his moving March 31, 1995 piece, "AIDS in Prison: Locked Up and Locked Out."
USA Today Reporter Sam Meddis, too, has helped bring critical questions about America's criminal justice system to public awareness in an informed manner. NACDL's award recognizes, in particular, a series of stories published July 23 - 27, 1993, under the banner, "Is the Drug War Racist? Disparities Suggest the Answer is Yes." Using census and law enforcement data, Sam and USA Today colleague Shawn McIntosh quantified the disproportionate impact of America's 'war on drugs' on our African-American communities. Similarly, in a June 22 - 23, 1994, series entitled "Unequal Justice," Sam and USA Today colleague Laura Frank exposed wide disparities in prosecution practices and resource allocation among the Justice Department's 94 U.S. Attorney's offices, documenting that equal treatment under law is an ideal, not yet a reality, in our democratic system.
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Mark Curriden, with The Chattanooga Times (previously with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and form many years a regular contributor to The National Law Journal and the ABA Journal) has for over a consistently exposed readers to the larger, often darker, realities underlying the news. NACDL honors Mark for his extraordinary three-part exposé on the government's dangerous and growing use of confidential informants, "Secret Threat to Justice," which was published in The National Law Journal February 20 and 27 and March 6, 1995. Based on Mark's work, the Law Journal's editorial page declared that "abuses by informants and law enforcement threaten the rights and safety of innocent people, as well as the integrity of the courts."
In the highest tradition of their profession, these journalists have performed valuable public services by alerting Americans to threats to their liberty. Like Senators Hatfield and Simon and Congresswoman Schroeder, their dedication to the constitutional values of fairness, due process and equal justice truly make them "Champions of Justice."
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.