By Jeff Borg

For their valuable contributions to civil liberties, the Greater Miami Chapter honored reporter Carol Marbin Miller, advocacy group Florida Action Committee, and civil-rights attorney H.T. Smith during our annual Bill of Rights Reception Friday, 24 October 2014. Gabriele Fiorentino hosted us in her beautiful South Miami home, even though she was obliged to attend a conflicting event as president of Dranoff International 2 Piano Foundation.

Gene Miller Voice of Freedom Award: Carol Marbin Miller

This year the chapter created a new award to recognize great journalism in civil liberties. While considering a name for the honor, one eminence came up repeatedly: the late Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for articles that exonerated Joe Shea and Mary Katherin Hampton and a second Pulitzer in 1976 for work that won the release of death-row inmates Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee.

So we named it the Gene Miller Voice of Freedom Award. Miller’s widow, Caroline Heck Miller, flew to Miami from London to extol the award’s namesake and present the honor to its first recipient, Miami Herald senior investigative reporter Carol Marbin Miller (no relation).

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Caroline Heck Miller (left) presents Carol Marbin Miller the first Gene Miller Voice of Freedom Award. Photo by Jeff Borg.

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon commended Marbin Miller’s reporting on Florida’s underperforming system to protect vulnerable children and adults. Her stories have led directly to the passage of state laws to reform the child-welfare system, curb the use of psychiatric drugs, overhaul involuntary commitment, close military-style boot camps, and ban kickbacks for patient referrals.

She cowrote the 2014 investigative series “Innocents Lost,” and a series that she cowrote on assisted living facilities, “Neglected to Death,” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in public service.

Receiving the award, Marbin Miller expressed her appreciation to the ACLU and posthumously to Gene Miller, who had been a colleague and mentor during her career. She recounted several of her own experiences with his larger-than-life newsroom presence.

Maurice Rosen Act of Courage Award: Florida Action Committee

It takes a great deal of courage to defend human rights and constitutional protections for society’s most hated and reviled members, such as exoffenders convicted of sex crimes. Legal Panel Chair Jeffrey Hearne and Police Practices Committee Chair Jeanne Baker presented the chapter’s Maurice Rosen Act of Courage Award to the Florida Action Committee, which works to dispel myths, dampen hysteria, protect the public, and enable former sex offenders to become productive members of society.

Ronnie Davidovic (left) and Gail Colletta (right), of the Florida Action Committee, pose with the Maurice Rosen Act of Courage Award and Jeffrey Hearne, Nancy Abudu, and Jeanne Baker. Photo by Jeff Borg.

Ronnie D (left) and Gail Colletta (right) of the Florida Action Committee receive the Maurice Rosen Act of Courage Award. Jeffrey Hearne, Nancy Abudu, and Jeanne Baker join in. Photo by Jeff Borg.

Gail Colletta and Ronnie D accepted the award for FAC. Colletta described how lawmakers enact restrictions and taxpayers spend millions but get only broken families and damaged communities, while failing to stop the cycle of abuse or make our children any safer.

Just the day before, ACLU national, the ACLU of Florida, and the Greater Miami Chapter had filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Corrections, seeking a permanent injunction against residency restrictions that forced many exoffenders to sleep in bug-infested warehouse alleys and railroad rights-of-way with no food, no water, no kitchens, no toilets, no electricity, no roofs, no security, and no hope.

Stanley Milledge Award: H.T. Smith

Former Legal Panel Chair Ray Taseff, who worked with pioneering civil-rights attorney H.T. Smith for years, presented him with the chapter’s Stanley Milledge Award for lifetime achievement in civil liberties.

H.T. Smith is the recipient of the Stanley Milledge Award for lifetime achievement in civil liberties. Photo by Jeff Borg.

Attorney H.T. Smith is the recipient of the Stanley Milledge Award for lifetime achievement in civil liberties. Photo by Jeff Borg.

Smith has amassed a long list of firsts, including Dade County’s first African-American assistant public defender and first African-American assistant county attorney. His list of community programs, boards, and awards runs for pages.

He came onto everyone’s radar screen in 1990 as spokesman for Boycott Miami: Coalition for Progress, launched in response to a snub of Nelson Mandela and the African-American community by officials in Miami and Dade County. It ended three years later with proposals and promises to bring blacks more into the economic mainstream.

Accepting the Stanley Milledge Award, Smith recalled how far the black community had come during his life and career. He gave a shout-out to the LGBT community, also the subject of much discrimination, for its support over the years.

Event host and sponsors

On behalf of the ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter, I thanked Gabriele Fiorentino for hosting us once again and Israel Sands for chairing the event and arranging the delectable hors d’oeuvres, open bar, and music.

Thanks also to our generous sponsors, who made the evening possible and included G Richard Strafer PA, Jepeway & Jepeway PA, the Miami Chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Ray Taseff PA, Robbins Tunkey Ross Amsel Raben & Waxman PA, Virginia L. Rosen, and Joe McMahon.

Jeff Borg is president of the ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter.

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