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Heather Catallo to receive Wade H. McCree award for guardianship investigations

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Posted at 1:54 PM, Apr 15, 2024

(WXYZ) — 7 Investigator Heather Catallo and WXYZ-TV have been honored with a Wade H. McCree award by the Michigan Press Association for her series Problems in Probate.

In 2023, Catallo exposed how the Michigan Guardianship Association worked to kill recent legislative reforms. Her work also revealed how Michigan’s busiest probate court was still largely closed to the public, and she highlighted other legal remedies for Michigan families including Supported Decision Making and the efforts to enhance Michigan’s Power of Attorney laws.

“This is a wonderful honor to have this work recognized. Every day we work to hold the government and powerful players in our courts accountable so that local families can have their rights upheld,” said Catallo. “Thank you to the judges for selecting these stories, and thank you to videographer Johnny Sartin Jr. and video editor Randy Lundquist for all of their hard work on these investigations.”

According to the Michigan Press Association Foundation, the McCree awards are presented to "Journalism projects that examined, explained and exposed problems and important issues in law enforcement and the legal system."

In announcing the award, the foundation said:

Reporter Heather Catallo of WXYZ_TV for her reporting on “Problems in Probate: Fighting for Accountability and Access” has been working since 2017 to expose the fraud and abuse in the probate courts in Michigan that result in unnecessary guardianships and conservatorships. In 2021, Catallo’s reporting resulted in four bills being introduced in the Michigan legislature. But guardianship reform has opponents: the judges in the system and the lawyers who work as professional guardians. In 2023, Catallo exposed how the Michigan Guardianship Association worked to kill those bills. She also revealed recordings of a well-known probate judge helping professional guardians and lawyers push back against family members fighting for their loved ones. This reporting not only held the judge accountable, it educated the public about the law and the reforms needed in the probate courts. In addition to exposing the problems with the guardianship system, Catallo is committed to informing and educating the public about other legal remedies available for families. Her coverage of the effort to add Supported Decision Making to Michigan’s laws was welcomed by the disability community and local families. With so many problems in the guardianship system, alternatives to “civil death” must be explored. Catallo also explored new efforts to enhance Michigan’s Power of Attorney laws, another essential step in helping families avoid guardianship.

The McCree awards are named for Judge Wade H. McCree, former lawyer and one of the most distinguished jurists in Michigan history He was a staunch advocate for equal rights and open, accountable government. McCree served as a circuit, federal and U.S. Appeals court judge, and, from 1977-81, as solicitor general of the United States.

The awards will be presented to the winners at the 2024 Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame dinner on April 14th at the Kellogg Center.

The awards were determined by a panel of three judges representing law and media who independently reviewed entries from across Michigan. This is the 50th year for the awards.

In addition to Catallo, awards will also be presented to Reporter Kara Berg of the Detroit News for a series of stories on “Michigan Kids Keep Dying on Child Protective Services’ Watch,” Reporter Lauren Gibbons of Bridge Michigan for her columns “Juvenile Justice carries high costs: Crippling Debt for Parents,” and Reporter Andrea Sahouri of the Detroit Free Press for her column "Exposing Racism, Harassment, assault at Detroit’s Renaissance Center.”