Reporters Samantha Hogan, Agnel Philip and Andrew Ford have been named finalists for the 2021 Livingston Awards for their work on two ProPublica Local Reporting Network projects. The award honors outstanding achievement by journalists under the age of 35.
Hogan, a reporter for the Maine Monitor, and Philip, a ProPublica data reporter, were named finalists in the local reporting category for the series “Defenseless.” The series investigated how Maine handles legal services for the poor, as the only state in the country that does not have a public defender system. Instead, the state’s poorest defendants are provided with access to private attorneys contracted by a state office called the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. Hogan and Philip found that these attorneys lack oversight and have disproportionately high levels of professional misconduct and criminal convictions, including for repeat drunken driving and possession of child pornography. Within a week of publication, Gov. Janet Mills said she was “disturbed” by the investigation and called for a bipartisan effort to reform Maine’s defense system. Amid mounting criticism of his management of legal services for Maine’s poor, John Pelletier stepped down as executive director of the commission.
Ford, a reporter for the Asbury Park Press, is also a finalist in the local reporting category for the series “Gilded Badges.” Reported in partnership with ProPublica, the investigation explored how New Jersey police officers collect millions of dollars by exploiting their union contracts for additional retirement benefits beyond generous pensions. Problems range from the outrageous example of a retired officer receiving a 14-karat gold filled badge worth $7,000 to more common benefits like the ability to sell back unused sick days, systems of well-paid “extra duty” work and end-of-career payments. All of these perks come at a major cost to New Jersey taxpayers. After the series was published, New Jersey’s acting state comptroller released a report that deemed retirement payouts for unused sick days illegal, and some cities said they would discontinue similar practices.
See a list of all this year’s Livingston Award finalists here.