Public radio host gets Polk award for Brunswick judge story
5:09 pm, February 21st, 2012
Ira Glass, a reporter at the Chicago-based public radio show, “This American Life,” has been awarded the George Polk Award for Radio Reporting for an hour-long report on the Brunswick Circuit’s former chief Superior Court Judge Amanda F. Williams. The report, called, “Very Tough Love,” unveiled severe punishments that Williams was meting out as the presiding judge in the circuit’s drug courts. Although the drug courts are intended to rehabilitate, not incarcerate, Glass’s report examined Williams’ practice of sentencing drug court participants who relapsed and resumed their illegal drug use to an “indefinite sentence” that often included extended isolation from family, friends, counselors and attorneys until further order of the judge. He also described her as “a judge many people truly fear.”
When Glass’ broadcast aired in March 2011, Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission had already opened an investigation of Williams based on complaints that the judge had engaged in improper ex parte communications and, in an apparent conflict of interest, had appointed her daughter as a guardian ad litem in a child custody case. But ethics charges the JQC issued last November included Williams’ treatment of four drug court defendants whose experiences Glass reported in his broadcast.
Both Glass’ report and the JQC charges cite the case of Lindsey Dills, a 24-year-old drug court participant whom Williams jailed for an indefinite term. By last spring, Dills had spent five and a half years in Williams’ drug court, including more than a year in jail for cashing two forged checks totaling $100 on her father’s checking account, according to the JQC.
The JQC closed its investigation when Williams announced in December that she was retiring from the bench and agreed never to seek or hold judicial office again.
The Polk Awards, sponsored by Long Island University since their inception in 1949, honor the late CBS News correspondent George W. Polk, who was slain while covering the civil war in Greece in 1948.