Jessica Priest

A Victoria Advocate reporter won a Texas Gavel Award, the State Bar of Texas announced Tuesday.

The award honors journalism that deepens public understanding of the legal system.

Jessica Priest, 30, won for a series called “Port Politics,” which examined the Calhoun County Port Authority after it hired former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist in May 2018. Farenthold resigned from Congress after an ethics inquiry began about allegations of sexual harassment and the fact that he used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a staffer.

Priest’s reporting uncovered that the board’s action may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led to the newspaper filing a lawsuit against the Port Authority. Priest also highlighted a general lack of oversight for ports and special purpose taxing districts. She reported on the Calhoun Port Authority board’s conflicts of interest, its one-of-kind retirement plan and a trip to Chile. Farenthold resigned from his port position in January 2019.

Priest has worked for the Advocate since 2012, and this is her third Texas Gavel Award. She won in 2015 for stories about a district attorney’s handling of driving while intoxicated cases and in 2016 for stories about the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center.

Priest competed against other journalists at daily newspapers, alternative weeklies and magazines with a circulation of less than 100,000. Other winners included journalists from the Texas Tribune, KXAN-TV in Austin, KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi and Super Lawyers magazine.

The State Bar of Texas, an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas that provides continuing legal education programs for attorneys and manages attorney discipline, will present the awards to the winners Sept. 20 during the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ statewide conference in Austin.

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