Honorees at the 16th annual Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Banquet hosted by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation Oct. 19 at the Emory Conference Center Hotel included an Emory alumna and the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program.
The 2017 Open Government Hero Award was presented to the late Stephanie B. Manis (77L), who was a Fulton County Superior Court Judge and instructor at Emory School of Law, with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Manis’ colleague, former U.S. District Judge for Northern Georgia Mark H. Cohen (76C, 79L) introduced Manis and the award.
Prior to her appointment to the Superior Court in 1995, Manis worked for 16 years in the Georgia Office of the Attorney General, where she served as a civil litigator and an expert in the state’s open meetings and records laws.
Cohen, who worked alongside Manis at the Attorney General’s office, described his friend and colleague of 35 years as a “forceful [and] energetic individual.”
“I personally observed Stephanie taking numerous phone calls from average citizens complaining about their lack of access to the very public officials they voted into office,” Cohen said. “[She] would spend an hour or more on the phone with citizens, counseling them on what options they had to challenge actions taken by their city council or city commission.”
Manis and Cohen co-authored a 1988 article for the Mercer Law Review, entitled “Georgia’s Open Records and Open Meetings Laws: A Continued March Toward Government in the Sunshine,” which explored the implications of the 1988 amendments to Georgia’s “Sunshine Laws.” Their article concluded that the amendments would lead to greater government transparency.
“Nowadays we take for granted … laws on the books that protects citizens access to meetings and records of state and local agencies,” Cohen said. “I will tell you that none of that would be in place without the earlier leadership of heroes of open government like Stephanie B. Manis.”
Manis died Dec. 17, 2016 at the age of 76. Manis’ husband, Robert S. Manis, and two of her three daughters, Lisa Vayle and Tamara Perciful, accepted the award on her behalf.
In addition to the Open Government Hero Award, the Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award is given to a group or individual that champions freedom of information in the spirit of its namesake, the late chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
Director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program Laura Neuman accepted the award on behalf of the program.
Established in 1999, the program’s mission is to advance the right of access to information to those in underdeveloped countries, with a key focus on gender-based inequities, Neuman said. Since its inception, the program has assisted government agencies in becoming more accountable and provided workshops to citizens on how to access information in Jamaica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mali, China and Liberia.
“Access to information is a fundamental right … as it helps people to more fully exercise their rights to education, a clean environment, healthcare, housing and to be free from violence,” Neuman said.
The event was sponsored and attended by representatives from local and national media organizations, including CNN, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV and Radio. The annual banquet provides financial support to the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit that “works to educate, citizens, public officials, journalists and lawyers on Georgia’s open records, open meetings and free speech laws,” according to its website.