A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: Magazine writing, Andrea Simakis

By Quill

Andrea Simakis, a staff writer for the Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine, has never escaped the law. She grew up watching her father defend clients with big legal troubles and small bank accounts.

In 1999, Simakis joined the Plain Dealer and within a year, she was named the newspaper’s first social services writer. In 2001, Simakis won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for her profile of a lawyer who champions for abused and neglected children in juvenile courts.

Judging from her history, writing “Road to Ruin” was inevitable.

“I learned about Bob Kreischer and his legal troubles from a blind e-mail sent to the magazine by his wife, Mary,” said Simakis. “By that time, the family had drained their savings on fruitless appeals. … They had written countless elected officials, newspapers and TV stations asking for an investigation into his case.”

What Simakis found was Bob Kreischer. He worked hard, loved his family and believed in his country. He had a falling out with a neighbor, so he punched him – once. He said in self-defense.

The courts turned the punch into an all-out attack. The same system Kreischer believed would save him charged him with felonious assault and sentenced him to two years in prison.

“Although I was initially skeptical of their claims – that Kreischer was an innocent man who had been wronged by the courts – I agreed to meet with Kreischer and his family because there was a simple sincerity to the message that I couldn’t ignore,” said Simakis.

During her investigation, Simakis fought the trial court judge to gain access to public records, which revealed crucial documents not presented in the trial. She traveled hundreds of miles to track down jurors scattered throughout Southern Ohio.

“Even the attorneys handling Kreischer’s appeals didn’t understand her interest in their client,” said editor Ellen Stein Burbach.

“It wasn’t the first time a sheriff’s deputy had botched an investigation, they said, or a defense lawyer hadn’t done his homework or a prosecutor had hidden a police report. Happens all the time. And they were right: Kreischer’s saga represents abuses that take place in American courtrooms every day but rarely make the news.”

Simakis spent a year reporting and writing the two-part series.

“I thought that by describing the nightmarish legal odyssey of one ordinary man and his family, I could show that any of us are vulnerable to the same kind of miscarriage of justice,” said Simakis.