Des Moines — Howard Witt, national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, has won the 2008 American Judicature Society’s Toni House Journalism Award. Witt is the Tribune’s Southwest bureau chief based out of Houston. The award is named after the late U.S. Supreme Court public information officer Toni House. It honors outstanding journalism that enhances public understanding of the courts and contributes to the improvement of the administration of justice. The award will be presented at a ceremony later this year.
Witt was selected as the recipient for a career body of work that has heightened public awareness of continuing racial disparities in America. Most notably, Witt wrote the first national story on racial tensions in Jena, Louisiana, now commonly known as the Jena 6 story. Witt’s other prominent stories led to the release of Shaquanda Cotton, a black teen who received seven years in jail for shoving her school hall monitor in Paris, Texas, and to a large civil award for Billy Ray Johnson, a mentally disabled black man in Texas who was beaten and left for dead by four white youths who received only a slap on the wrist in criminal court.
Witt is the tenth recipient of the award. Previous recipients include Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent; Marcia Coyle, Washington Bureau Chief of the National Law Journal; and Lyle Denniston, U.S. Supreme Court and legal affairs correspondent for the Boston Globe.
An important aspect of the AJS mission is to further public understanding of the judicial system. Toni House reflected that commitment by devoting her career to explaining the workings of the court system to the public—first as a journalist and later as the U.S. Supreme Court’s public information officer. At the time of her death in 1998, House was of member of the AJS Executive Committee.