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Auctions raise more than $8,000 for Legal Defense Fund

By The Working Press

By Ryan Murphy
The Working Press

Free-spending attendees of the Society of Professional Journalists’ convention helped raise more than $6,000 for the organization’s Legal Defense Fund at a live auction Saturday night.

A separate silent auction held earlier during the convention raised about $2,000 for the fund, bringing its total take to more than $8,000.

Former SDX President Steve Geimann (right) places a $2,000 bid on the last Watergate chair, as Washington, D.C. Pro chapter member Andy Schotz looks on.
Colin Frank/The Working Press

The high point of Saturday’s auction came when Steve Geimann, immediate past president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, spent $4,000 on a director’s chair signed by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and other staffers who broke the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

The piece is one of seven such chairs, all signed when those Post staff members spoke at the SPJ national convention in 2004 in Washington, D.C.

Geimann walked into the auction already owning four of the chairs.

“I had to get it; it was the last one,” Geimann said after being declared the winner of a fifth chair. “It’s been a tradition at this event for me to bid on the chair.”

Gordon “Mac” McKerral begins the auction round for a deck of “Iraq’s Most Wanted” playing cards.
Colin Frank/The Working Press

During last year’s live auction, Carol Cole-Frowe of the Oklahoma Pro chapter outbid Geimann to claim one of the Watergate chairs for $3,300.

Auction proceeds benefit SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, which disburses grants to journalists involved in First Amendment litigation.

Most recently, the LDF helped Douglas Higginbotham, of TV New Zealand, fight a disorderly conduct charge after New York police officers arrested him during an Occupy Wall Street protest.

Before the live auction, the defense fund ran a two-day silent auction of more than 70 items, including original newspaper front pages chronicling historic moments in U.S. history. The pages included reports on the Apollo 11 moon landing and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy.

Steve Geimann celebrates getting the Watergate chair.
Colin Frank/The Working Press

The annual auctions are the only sources of funding for the Legal Defense Fund.

Nine items were auctioned off on Saturday, including the last-minute addition of a deck of playing cards issued by the Department of Defense featuring the faces of “Iraq’s Most Wanted.” It sold for $155.

Also sold was an Excellence in Journalism 2012 convention T-shirt that was worn, signed and modeled by Chris Vachon, SPJ’s associate executive director.

The winning bid on that was $425.