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Golden Gavel Awards

The State Bar of Wisconsin established the annual Wisconsin Gavel Awards competition in 1985 to recognize outstanding coverage of the justice system by newspaper, television, radio, photography, and Web sites.

Two types of awards are presented: the Golden Gavel and the Certificate of Commendation. Golden Gavel Awards are presented for outstanding contributions to public understanding of our system of law and justice. Certificates of Commendation are presented for entries judged to be noteworthy examples of public service messages or other activities that enhance the public's understanding of the justice system.


The Wisconsin Gavel Awards provide statewide recognition of photography, published articles, radio and television broadcasts, and Web sites that meet the following objectives:

  • To foster greater public understanding of the judicial and legal system
  • To inform and to educate citizens as to the roles of society, the law, the courts, law enforcement agencies, and the legal profession
  • To disclose practices or procedures that improve efforts to reform and modernize our laws, courts, or law agencies statewide


The State Bar of Wisconsin Gavel Awards Judging Committee is made up of lawyers, judges, educators, and media representatives. Its members choose winning entries based on:

  • Informational value and educational merit
  • Creativity
  • Thoroughness
  • Reportorial and other technical skills
  • Impact

The Judging Committee may, but need not, present Golden Gavel Awards or Certificates of Commendation in each category. The number of awards made is within the discretion of the committee.

By granting an award, the State Bar of Wisconsin does not endorse the position taken by the entrant.

Awards Presentation

Awards are made in the name of winning media organizations and individuals involved in creating the award-winning entry.

Awards will be presented at Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association events.


Any television or radio station, newspaper, magazine, or publisher may submit entries. Beginning in 2008, a separate category for material posted originally on a Web site was created.

Entries may relate to the work of the bench, bar, law enforcement agencies, corrections institutions, or to the law itself.


The competition is not open to publications or broadcast materials primarily intended for legal audiences or legal textbooks.

Materials prepared by any State Bar of Wisconsin member or staff, and members of the Wisconsin Gavel Awards Committee are ineligible.

Materials financed through the State Bar or by a grant or award from the State Bar are ineligible.

Any representation of any part of a court proceeding must comply fully with the requirements set by the jurisdiction in which the proceeding takes place. Any entries that violate the court regulations (including SCR 61.01-61.12 regarding electronic media in courts) or inconsistently represent the intent of activities will be disqualified from the competition. Entries representing simulated court proceedings need not meet this requirement.

For more information, contact Michael Wiltse at (608) 250-6025.


  1. Print Media
    1. Daily newspapers
    2. Nondaily newspapers
    3. Magazines
  2. Broadcast Media
    1. Television
    2. Radio
  3. Photography
    1. Daily newspapers
    2. Nondaily newspapers
    3. Magazines
  4. Web site Materials
    1. Print Media
    2. Electronic Media

Entry Rules

Entry is simpler than ever.  Just complete an entry form and email it to, along with a link to your story. We can only judge stories that we can view, so if your links are not active or your piece was not posted online, we can also accept the following formats:

  • YouTube links to packages that originally aired during a newscast
  • MP3s for radio entries
  • Published articles formatted into Word or PDF documents

Contestants must attach a completed official entry form to their entries. If more than one entry is submitted, please complete a separate form for each entry. You can also mail your entry to:

Wisconsin Gavel Awards
State Bar of Wisconsin
5302 Eastpark Blvd.
Madison, WI 53718-2101
Attn: Michael Wiltse

Entrants or their employers must own all rights to reproduce entries in any medium without restriction. If applicable, provide signed release forms with submissions.

Entries that seek to show results of campaigns or programs to improve the law, the practice of law, the courts, law enforcement agencies, or corrections institutions, should be fully documented. Provide readers' responses or documentation of results (e.g., changes in legislation, increase in community awareness, etc.).

Contestants may submit up to five entries in each category. All entries must be submitted as aired, televised, posted, or printed.

1. Print Media

Written entries may consist of editorials, feature articles, news articles, interpretive columns, or a series of articles. Entries covering law-related current events are encouraged. The competition is not open to books or lengthy manuscripts. 

2. Broadcast Media

Broadcast entries may consist of editorials, news stories (may include coverage of law-related current events), documentaries, educational, or dramatic features. All entries must be submitted electronically. Please delete all commercials and eliminate long lead-ins and breaks.

3. Photography

Awards in the still photography category may be given to entries that meet one or more of the stated criteria for print entries and/or if the photograph exhibits an image that portrays the human, emotional implications of the impact of the judicial or legal system in such a way as to draw the reader into the accompanying story, if applicable, or as a stand alone photo with caption.

4. Web Site Material

Web site entries may include items not previously published or broadcast, including blogs, editorials, news stories, documentaries, educational, or dramatic features and may consist of any combination of stories, video clips, audio clips, and photographs published on-line by a qualifying media organization. For each entry, please include a working link to the Web site.​​​​​​​​