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Crime & Courts

T. Denny Sanford attempted to block media coverage

96521e5cb0_T Denny Sanford MPR1991.jpg
MPR

Second Circuit Court files unsealed on Wednesday, Nov. 17, confirm that search warrants served on T. Denny Sanford are part of an investigation into child pornography.

Also included in the newly opened files are records of Sanford ’s attempts to kill a story by ProPublica and, failing that, to force the reporters to reveal their sources.

When T. Denny Sanford learned that ProPublica was trying to find information on the DCI investigation into child pornography, he asked Judge James Power for a restraining order to bar reporters from covering the case.

Judge Power denied that request, saying it amounted to prior restraint, a violation of First Amendment protections for news media. He issued a limited protection order, prohibiting ProPublica from publishing information it learned while it was involved in court proceedings as a party.

But the judge allowed publication of information the reporters found elsewhere, even if that same information could also be found in court records.

On Aug. 28, 2020, ProPublica ran a story about the Sanford search warrants, citing four anonymous sources, and Sanford asked Judge Power to order reporters to prove that they did not violate the limited protection order.

ProPublica countered that Sanford was asking, in violation of state law, that their reporters reveal their confidential sources. The judge agreed and denied Sanford’s request.

Soon after he made that ruling, Judge Power unsealed the search warrant records, except for affidavits that remain sealed until the investigation is declared closed or Sanford is indicted.

Identified only as “An Implicated Individual,” Sanford appealed Judge Power’s decision to unseal the records and reveal Sanford’s identity, but the South Dakota Supreme Court held that state law considers search warrants to be open records.

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