NJ 101.5 wins NAB award for stories that changed NJ judiciary
New Jersey 101.5 is proud to announce it is the recipient of a 2020 National Association of Broadcasters "Service to Community Award," announced at the NAB Foundation's esteemed Celebration of Service to America Awards presentation Saturday.
Deputy Digital Editor Sergio Bichao and Reporter David Matthau had already previously won the Keystone Society of Professional Journalists' Spotlight Award — the most prestigious award in that competition — for their entry on how judges minimized sexual assault in New Jersey. Across several stories, Bichao and Matthau shed light on the dismissive comments made by judges, and how they affected treatment of victims and alleged perpetrators alike. The Service to Community award further recognizes the same compelling work.
"In July 2019, WKXW launched a series of reports highlighting misconduct within the New Jersey Family Court regarding rape and sexual assault cases. These investigative reports included the shocking details of local judges blocking prosecutors’ requests to try juveniles as adults as well as a pattern of victim blaming," the NAB Foundation wrote of the award selection. "This news series encouraged the community and local lawmakers to respond to these injustices. As a result of this series of investigative reports, the state Supreme Court accepted the resignation of one of the judges, took action to remove another from the bench and implemented mandatory sex crime training for all judges."
In June of 2019, Bichao reported on the decision by Family Court Judge Marcia Silva to block prosecutors’ request that a 16-year-old be tried as an adult, after the boy allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl. Silva lectured the prosecutors about the law and repeatedly suggested that the alleged sexual assault — which resulted in the girl bleeding — didn't cause any "physical or emotional injuries" or harm "other than the ramifications of losing her virginity, which the court does not find to be especially serious harm."
The next month, Bichao and Matthau together reported on another attempt to try a teen as an adult — a 16-year-old boy accused of leading a drunken teenage girl into a hidden corner of a basement and sexually assaulting her while recording it on his phone. Afterward, investigators said, the boy sent at least seven of his friends a copy of the clip with the caption: “When your first time having sex is rape.”
In that case, Judge James Troiano said he didn’t think what happened to the girl was really rape, and said prosecutors should have explained to the victim that pressing charges would ruin the life of her attacker — an Eagle scout with good grades from an “excellent school.”
An appellate panel overturned Judge James Troiano’s decision.
Family Court cases are normally private. Bichao and Matthau had access to the judges' statements and reasoning only because the cases were appealed, and Appellate Court cases are open to the public. Still, their reporting broke news of both cases — prompting a flurry of coverage by national and international news organizations, and outcry about what many saw as a cavalier attitude by New Jersey judges toward sexual assault.
“These comments are appalling and having two cases like this is cause for grave concern in the state of New Jersey. The judicial branch should take immediate disciplinary action,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in July of 2019. Bichao covered the calls from Weinberg and others to see the judges step down.
Troiano did, weeks later. At the same time, the state's court system announced sex crime training for all judges. This year, a split judicial panel on Thursday declined to pursue discipline against Silva, but said she chose her words poorly.
In the NAB awards presentation, which premiered Saturday night and will which be aired on about 500 television stations over the next few weeks, host Tamron Hall said of Bichao's and Matthau's work: "Thank you for having the courage to hold with power accountable for their actions. WKXW's (New Jersey 101.5's) dedication to bringing truth and justice to its community is beyond measure."
"Journalism is about telling the stories of the voiceless and powerless, and the best reward in this profession is knowing that you’ve made a positive difference — which is what our project accomplished," Bichao said. "I’m thankful for the recognition our work has received and I’m proud to work at New Jersey 101.5 with a team that made it possible."
"It is extremely gratifying to work on and be recognized for stories that make a meaningful and positive contribution to New Jersey," Matthau said. "I believe the series of reports we did on Family Court judges has helped to raise awareness about the importance of attitudes and perceptions within the judicial system. Bias and insensitivity must be exposed and addressed if we are going to help and protect young victims in our state."
The award is a point of pride for New Jersey 101.5 — but not nearly so much as the difference-making work by Bichao and Matthau itself.
“Congratulations to Sergio and David for being recognized with such a prestigious award," News Director Annette Petriccione said. "Their investigative reporting brought national exposure to a longstanding practice of victim blaming that was allowed to perpetuate unchecked throughout New Jersey’s Family Court system. Their tireless work brought real change to the way judges are now expected to handle rape and sexual assault cases in New Jersey. It’s the type of reporting that represents the core principals of journalism. I’m tremendously honored to work with two of the finest journalists in the industry."
"I couldn't be prouder to work alongside Sergio and David," Digital Managing Editor Louis C. Hochman said. "I see every day how the smart questions they ask, the insights they bring and the effort they put in uncovers information that's essential to the people of New Jersey. They've helped define what New Jersey 101.5 has been and can be. Every sexual violence victim who goes before a judge in New Jersey going forward will benefit from their work to uncover hard truths, and the reforms that followed."
"I knew joining the New Jersey 101.5 team this year it was a place where dedicated, talented people shine," Market President and Chief Revenue Officer Brian Lang said. "Work like this by David and Sergio just proves how right that sense was. I'm so proud to be working with journalists who not only bring the station such great accolades, but whose work has changed New Jersey for the better. What we do matters!"