Tag Archives | Isaac Avilucea

Awards lunch keynote to focus on legacy of African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune

For Immediate Release

Contact: Miriam Ascarelli at 862-576-1256 or ascarelli@gmail.com. 

Keynote address at NJ SPJ’s awards lunch will focus on legacy of T. Thomas Fortune, a crusading 19th century black journalist from Red Bank, NJ

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce that Dr. Walter Greason, historian and professor at Monmouth University, and president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation will be the keynote speaker at NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards Luncheon June 22.

The event, to be held at Maize Restaurant in the Robert Treat Hotel, Newark, runs from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.   Tickets are $30 each and can be purchased here.

The luncheon will fete the first, second and third place winners of NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards journalism contest. The names of winners – whose work was published across various platforms, be it print, audio or video — will be announced at the event. Also to be announced will be the names of NJSPJ’s Educator of the Year and Reporter of the Year.

In addition, reporter Isaac Avilucea and editor John Berry, both of The Trentonian, will be honored as our two recipients of our prestigious Courage Under Fire award: The newspaper published several exclusive stories that the mayor and his administration were trying to keep under wraps. One administration official reported a burglary to police and suggested —in a supposed ‘joke’—that the reporter could be a suspect.  The paper stood by Avilucea, first with the staff un-earthing contradictory statements from police sources, then by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to obtain bodycam footage. In the end, the “burglary” was revealed not to have ever occurred.

Even after the incident, Trenton’s mayor continued to insist that Avilucea be removed from the City Hall beat.  The Courage Under Fire award is intended to send a message—to those in NJ and in Washington, DC—that SPJ will not allow public officials to dictate which journalists they will allow to cover them.

Greason’s keynote will focus on a little-known piece of Garden-State history: the legacy of  T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most prominent African-American journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day, and was known for using his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices.

Fortune also had a home in Red Bank, NJ, where he lived from 1901 to 1910.

Over the years, that home – which Fortune called Maple Hill – gradually fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down.

Maple Hill was saved from the wrecking ball in 2016, thanks to the efforts of local activists and developer Roger Mumford, who came up with a plan to restore the house and convert it to a cultural center and build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. …

Continue Reading 0

The Trentonian and Avilucea notch a big press-freedom win

Journalism scored a big victory for the role of an informed public in a democracy this week when the New Jersey Appellate Court rejected the efforts of the NJ Attorney General’s office (AG) to reinstate a gag order against The Trentonian newspaper and reporter Isaac Avilucea.

This is an important case involving drugs brought to school by a 5-year-old child, drugs which appear to have been planted by an adult. At issue was a child-custody report, which the state claimed Avilucea had obtained illegally and wanted suppressed on the grounds that it was protecting the child’s privacy. However, from the beginning, the newspaper never published the child’s name.

The AG lost the case in Superior Court in March, but since then has been filing non-stop motions to keep the trial court judge’s order from going into effect. In this latest ruling, the Appellate Court could have simply checked the box “denied.” Instead, as Avilucea’s attorney Bruce Rosen pointed out, it issued a strongly worded seven-page decision that bolstered the basic principles of press rights by writing, “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” In effect, the court said “you have no case whatsoever – zip, zilch, zero – no matter how we look at it.”

The “prior restraint” ban stood for five months. Avilucea was under tremendous pressure to settle. He stood his ground and, after a fact-finding hearing, state Superior Court Judge Lawrence De Bello issued a ruling in March that found that Avilucea had obtained the report legally.

It has been a challenging time, for all, especially for Avilucea, an NJ-SPJ member. He went into treatment for testicular cancer a few weeks after the prior restraint order was issued. (Avilucea is 28 years old. His GoFundMe page is here).

In this week’s decision, the high court cited numerous cases supporting press freedom, which refreshes those past decisions as the opinion of the Appellate Division in 2017. We hope this means the AG’s office will accept the ruling and stop using taxpayer money on endless appeals.

NJ-SPJ thanks Rosen, The Trentonian’s lawyers Eli Segal and David Bralow, the SPJ Legal Defense Fund Committee Chair Hagit Limor and the committee, SPJ President Lynn Walsh, SPJ Ethics Chair Andrew Seaman, SPJ Region 1 Director Jane Primerano, NJ Foundation for Open Government’s John Paff. NJ-SPJ members Bob Schapiro and Miriam Ascarelli attended the court proceedings in support of Avilucea.…

Continue Reading 0

Suppressing the Rights of Parents and Criminalizing Journalism

A Statement from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists

Late last week a judge in Trenton made an important ruling, upholding the free speech rights of parents and journalists. At this moment, however, that ruling is under assault from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. Very soon a gag order could be re-imposed.

We don’t use the word “assault” lightly. Since the judge’s ruling, the Attorney General’s office has made non-stop appeals to the trial judge, the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court. They’ve been shut down each time. For most of us, after three strikes, you’re out. But the Attorney General’s office has unlimited resources, if the governor wants it to, and it is wasting taxpayer money by repeatedly appealing the ruling.
It is a complex case, but it boils down to this: A parent disagreed with findings in a state report about their child and family. The parent lacked the money to hire a lawyer, but sought to get The Trentonian newspaper to cover the matter in court. The Trentonian sent reporter Isaac Avilucea to the courthouse, where the parent gave him documents related to the case, documents which the state then claimed were illegally obtained.
The state then sought an extraordinary prior restraint order against the newspaper and threatened Avilucea with criminal charges. Avilucea stood firm and the state backed-down on the criminal threat, but a prior-restraint order was in effect from late October until late March. After a lengthy series of hearings, a Mercer County judge ruled that that Avilucea obtained the report legally and lifted the injunctions against him and The Trentonian. That should have ended things but the state now seems obsessed with spending tax money to suppress free speech in this case.
We wonder what the state is trying to hide. At this point, the state itself has made the child’s identify clear to anyone who looks at the matter. Why is the state so fearful of further reporting?
The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) is very much an interested party in this case, having sought and obtained money from our national organization to help fund Mr. Avilucea’s defense.
He is a member of our organization and the recipient of our signature “Courage Under Fire” award. Since the events in the courthouse last October, he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and he is about to enter a fifth round of chemo-therapy. Continued actions against him seem pointless and even cruel. At this point he is entering a clinical trial to which his doctor has referred him. Isaac observed his 28th birthday last week.
As sobering as this situation is, there are equally serious legal and moral issues at stake:
  • Should a parent be barred from sharing a report, from a taxpayer-funded agency, with a journalist?
Continue Reading 0

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes