The Georgia First Amendment Foundation presented the 2017 Weltner Award to the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program. Program Director Laura Neuman, our keynote speaker, told attendees of our Oct. 19 banquet about how access to public information is transforming citizens’ lives worldwide. She was introduced by Carter Center Chief Executive Officer Mary Ann Peters, former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh.
We also honored the late Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis with our Open Government Hero Award. Manis, who died in December 2016, was an unwavering advocate of open records and open meetings and proceedings during her years in the Office of the Georgia Attorney General and on the bench. U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen offered a tribute to Manis, his longtime friend and former colleague.
The banquet took place at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19, at the Silverbell Pavilion of the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta. Citizens, elected officials, journalists, judges, attorneys, members of the foundation’s board of directors and other First Amendment advocates were there to celebrate and support the foundation’s crucial and narrow mission. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is the state’s only organization completely committed to the public’s right to know.
In 2016 the General Assembly passed the most effective legislative protection of free speech rights in Georgia in 20 years. It was a major First Amendment victory for Georgians, bolstering their right to comment on matters of public concern.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation recognized the Motion Picture Association’s leadership role in building a coalition that helped persuade state lawmakers to strengthen free speech laws by naming the association as our recipient of the 2016 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award.
Former U.S. senator and MPAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Dodd came to Atlanta on Oct. 13 to accept the award at the foundation’s annual Weltner Banquet.
“The MPAA is honored to receive the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Weltner Freedom of Information Award,” Dodd said. “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to promoting First Amendment freedoms. We consistently resist calls for government censorship and work every single day to protect filmmakers’ rights to tell their stories. Georgia’s new, stronger free speech law safeguards those rights.”
The Motion Picture Association’s work under the Gold Dome led to increased legal protections against so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. The result: Deep-pocketed plaintiffs now have a much tougher time sustaining groundless defamation and other claims designed to chill free speech in Georgia.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation gave the 2015 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award to Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens at a dinner Sept. 17 to honor his commitment to improving open government laws in Georgia. Presiding Justice Harris Hines of the Georgia Supreme Court introduced Olens before his keynote speech.
The dinner was held in the Silverbell Pavilion at the Emory Conference Center.
The foundation also honored citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale, who was represented by the attorney general in a lawsuit filed on her behalf over open meeting violations in Cumming. GFAF President Shawn McIntosh presented Tisdale the foundation’s 2015 Open Government Hero award for her tenacious commitment to transparency in local government.
Olens pursued changes to Georgia’s Open Records and Meetings Acts designed to enhance the ability of Georgia citizens to access public records and public government gatherings. Among other enhancements, the changes strengthened enforcement provisions of the acts. And after the law was updated, Olens used those provisions to successfully sue violators.
PREVIOUS WELTNER AWARD WINNERS
- 2014 Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission
- 2013 Carol Hunstein, Chief Justice, Georgia Supreme Court
- 2012 John Lewis, Representative, United States Congress
- 2011 Vernon Keenan, Director Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- 2010 Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- 2009 Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice, Georgia Supreme Court
- 2008 Michael Bowers, former Attorney General of Georgia and Jim Houston, retired from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
- 2007 Marvin H. Shoob, Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
- 2006 Johnny Isakson, Senator, United States Congress
- 2005 Norman Fletcher, former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Georgia
- 2004 Roy Barnes, former Governor of Georgia
- 2003 Thurbert Baker, former Attorney General of Georgia
- 2002 Eason Jordan, former CNN Chief news executive and president of newsgathering