Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's efforts to keep government proceedings open were rewarded last week when he was honored by the Hoosier State Press Association with its annual Frank O'Bannon Sunshine Award.

The award was presented in recognition of his action to protect First Amendment rights in a legal dispute over public records last year.

Zoeller has been a strong advocate for open government. He has joined the HSPA in a series of seminars around the state - including Madison - to address the state's Open Door and Access to Public Records laws.

The South Bend Tribune nominated Zoeller for the Sunshine Award in recognition of his removing an obstacle to the newspaper's publication of an article based on information it obtained from a public record, the state media organization said in a press release.

In March 2012, a court injunction had blocked the newspaper from publishing an audiotape of a call received by a Department of Child Services hotline where a caller had reported child abuse.

Concluding that prior restraint would violate freedom of the press, Zoeller intervened in the lawsuit and withdrew the state from further appellate litigation in the dispute over the audio recording, meaning the newspaper could resume publication of its story about the recorded call.

"The Frank O'Bannon Sunshine Award honors public servants and citizens who understand that our government should be transparent to the people it serves. I commend Attorney General Zoeller for his commitment to using his post to protect public access when his colleagues in state government wanted to restrict it. Newspapers and all citizens have a friend in public servants like Zoeller," said Steve Key, the press association's executive director and general counsel.

"It is the responsibility of those of us in government to strive every day to earn the public's trust; but history has shown that the public should never fully trust government. Essential to the fundamental relationship between the people and their government is a free press and open, accessible information from officials and agencies. My obligation to defend the actions of state government is second only to my oath to defend the Constitution," Zoeller said.

The Sunshine Award is named for former governor Frank O'Bannon, who was a longtime newspaper publisher in Corydon and established the Public Access Counselor as a separate state agency during his administration. Until that time, the public access advisory opinion duties had been a part of the Attorney General's Office.