Past Weltner Awards
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation held our 19th annual Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Celebration virtually at 1 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2020.
In a break from tradition, we did not name a Weltner Award honoree for 2020. Instead, we applauded those whose work demonstrated the importance and power of First Amendment principles that are foundational to our democracy, particularly in this unprecedented year. During our virtual event, we recognized as 2020 First Amendment heroes:
- The Supreme Court of Georgia for vision, preparation and leadership that have allowed courts in our state to remain operational and open to the public during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
- The late state Rep. Jay Powell for ushering an expansion of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws through the General Assembly in 2012. The resulting laws improved citizens’ access to their government and established a legal framework for the virtual public meetings that have become so essential this year.
- Nineteen-year-old community organizer and activist Zoe Bambara, who leveraged our right “peaceably to assemble” by helping organize protests in late May calling for an end to police brutality and discrimination. The protests raised awareness and sparked change; two months later, Georgia’s first hate crimes law took effect.
We also previewed the foundation’s legislative agenda for the 2021 General Assembly session; celebrated the life and legacy of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a former Weltner Award honoree; and paid tribute to long-serving foundation board member Tom Budlong, who died this year.
Companion training event: Law Enforcement & the First Amendment
As a companion event to our Weltner Celebration, the foundation held an Oct. 9 training session, Law Enforcement and the First Amendment. The virtual session centered on how recordings of police activities have become catalysts for change and ways the First Amendment protects citizens’ right to record police on the job, access video from officer body cameras and more. Check out a recap and watch video of the event to get the facts from our panel of experts:
- Vic Reynolds, Director, Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- Zoe Bambara, Community Organizer & Activist
- Sarah Brewerton-Palmer, First Amendment Attorney, Caplan Cobb LLP
- Clare Norins, Director, First Amendment Clinic, UGA School of Law
- Gerry Weber, First Amendment Attorney, Gerry Weber LLC and Southern Center for Human Rights
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s 2019 Weltner Banquet was held on Oct. 10. Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton gave the keynote speech, which was a moving tribute to former Chief Justice P. Harris Hines, our posthumous Weltner Freedom of Information Award honoree. Helen Hines, widow of the late chief justice, accepted the award.
The foundation presented GFAF co-founder Hyde Post with a Founder’s Award in recognition of his tireless service to the foundation and to the open government cause in Georgia and beyond.
The event also was a celebration of this year’s successes, including the publication of GFAF’s updated Red Book, Sunshine Laws: A Guide to Open Government in Georgia.
In separate remarks, Post and foundation President Richard T. Griffiths detailed the importance of vigilantly protecting and expanding the public’s right to access government meetings, records and court proceedings as media and government landscapes change.
Atlanta high school students from Pace Academy contributed to the evening’s lively ambience by greeting guests and handing out nametags. The students’ attendance at the event represented a collaboration between the foundation and the private academy’s Isdell Center for Global Leadership. Sophomores selected to participate in the center’s new Fellows program pursue one of several co-curricular courses of study. Students in the Public Policy and International Relations cohort are exploring the First Amendment. Earlier this fall, Griffiths discussed freedom of the press at the school.
Discover more about the 2019 Weltner Banquet:
- Listen to the evening’s speeches, video courtesy of Nydia Tisdale and videographer Scott Smith.
- Check out news coverage of the event from the Daily Report and the Georgia Recorder.
- See a tribute video to the late Chief Justice Hines, created by board member Dale Russell.
- Flip through a photo gallery of the event.
- Download the event program, featuring an exclusive Mike Luckovich cartoon.
- Learn more about our honorees.
Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge James Bodiford was honored with the 2018 Weltner Freedom of Information Award at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s annual Weltner Banquet on Oct. 17. Bodiford, who was the keynote speaker, was recognized for repeatedly protecting the public’s right to courtroom access while presiding over some of Georgia’s highest-profile criminal cases.
The 2018 Weltner Banquet was one of the foundation’s most successful fundraisers ever, attracting more than 120 attendees, 11 event sponsors and pledges from donors that added up more than $136,000. It was a robust display of support for the foundation and our mission to protect and expand open government.
Two major donations were announced during the banquet. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News announced an $80,000 donation for open government training. The Department of Journalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication announced a $10,000 donation through its William S. Morris Chair in News Strategy and Management to update and publish the foundation’s Red Book guide to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws.
- Read more about the success of the 2018 Weltner Banquet.
- Watch a video of AJC and WSB-TV newsroom leaders announcing their contribution to the foundation.
- See a photo gallery of the event.
- Check out the event program, which features a Mike Luckovich cartoon and highlights open government achievements in 2018.
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 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.
Weltner Award Honorees, 2002-2022
- 2022 The Cox Family
- 2020/2021 No Weltner Awards given
- 2019 The late Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines
- 2018 Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge James Bodiford
- 2017 Carter Center Global Access to Information Program
- 2016 Motion Picture Association
- 2015 Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens
- 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