Paul Monies, Trevor Brown and Whitney Bryen.

Competing against some of the largest news outlets in Texas, three Oklahoma Watch reporters won first place in the First Amendment Awards sponsored by the Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The contest recognized work that was published in 2019.

Reporters Paul Monies and Trevor Brown, who work out of the Oklahoma State Capitol, won first place in general news for their story, “Working in Background, Lawyer Reaps Fees in Opioid Case.” Reporter Whitney Bryen won first in the “Defending the Disadvantaged” category for her story, “Most Domestic Abusers Defy Court-Ordered Intervention.”

Bryen was also the only finalist in the general news category for her in-depth story, “In Rural Areas, a Ceaseless Struggle to Get Domestic Violence Victims to Testify.”

Monies’ and Brown’s investigation revealed that the firm of a private attorney in the state’s sprawling opioid lawsuit, former legislative leader Glenn Coffee, stood to make $5.6 million in a settlement against a drugmaker despite Coffee having no obvious role documented in court filings. He later withdrew from the case, saying he had completed his work.

Bryen’s stories were part of a series on domestic violence and the justice system, “Shallow Justice.”

Her first-place story revealed that although Oklahoma sends many domestic violence offenders to 52 weeks of classes in batterer intervention, most of them don’t complete the program despite being given multiple chances.

Her other story examined how some district attorneys are prosecuting domestic abuse cases even when the victim refuses to testify, while other district attorneys drop the charges.

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