Erin Brockovich among Beacon Award winners

The Associated Press
Saturday October 14, 2000

FULLERTON – Erin Brockovich, the law clerk who brought about a record settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric Co., is among the winners of this year’s Beacon Awards presented by the California First Amendment Coalition. 

Other individual recipients include the whistleblower whose allegations about unethical conduct led to the ouster of state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and a newspaper publisher who went to jail rather than reveal a confidential source. 

The Bakersfield Californian and San Franciscans for Sunshine won the two organizational awards for their pursuit of open government. 

“These people and organizations are truly shining lights who have helped illuminate the darkness of government secrecy as well as threats to free speech and a free press,” said CFAC Executive Director Kent Pollock. “We have all benefitted from their efforts.” 

The awards will be formally presented this weekend at the coalition’s fifth annual First Amendment Assembly at California State University, Fullerton. 

Brockovich won for Exemplary Use of Public Records in the Interests of Justice, cited for how she used water agency files to document injuries to residents in the small California desert town of Hinkley. Her crusade brought about a lawsuit that forced PG&E to pay a record $333 million settlement and was chronicled in the hit movie named after her. 

“Brockovich’s effort is a shining example of how public records can be used by a citizen to right a serious public wrong,” the CFAC said. 

Cynthia Ossias, who risked her career by leaking key insider information from the Insurance Department to the Legislature, won for Exemplary Integrity in Public Service. Quackenbush ended up resigning amid an investigation into his conduct. 

Other individual winners: 

—Tim Crews of the bi-weekly Sacremento Valley Mirror, Exemplary Integrity in Print Journalism. Crews went to jail for five days rather than reveal the names of two sources. 

—CBS producer Lowell Bergman, Exemplary Integrity in Broadcast Journalism. He persuaded a former executive of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. to disclose during a ”60 Minutes” interview that company executives knew of the addictive effects of cigarette smoking. 

—Jean Askham, president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, Lifetime Achievement, for her career of voluntary effort for open, inclusive and effective democracy.