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South Dakota Supreme Court hears arguments in Sanford sealed records case

T. Denny Sanford (file)

The South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of an “implicated individual” this week.

SDPB previously confirmedthis refers to billionaire T. Denny Sanford. The case orbits a criminal probe into a child pornography investigation.

Multiple media outlets have filed formal requests to unseal files related to the case, which the state would not allow until the conclusion of the investigation.

Stacy Hegge is the lawyer representing Sanford. She argued only Sanford and the state should have full access to the documents.

“The state has ended its investigation into my client, and it has concluded that no crime was committed," Hegge said. "This appeal, however, is focused on the narrow issue of redaction. Whether my client, now cleared by the investigation, has a right to inspect the search warrant affidavits for confidential information before they are released to the public. The press is not an interested party, and they have no standing to challenge my clients right to inspect those affidavits.”

Jeff Beck, representing investigative journalism outlet ProPublica, argued these documents should be classified as public record.

“Those underlying warrants were not requested at the time," Beck said. "What was looking for was those things that the statute – 4.1 – specifically, explicitly says are public documents. The warrant itself, the returns, and the inventories. We weren’t asking for the underlying affidavits, we were asking based on a clear, unambiguous statute.”

Paul Swedlund, representing the state, said the case pits privacy standards against press access.

“Here the state’s interest is in the development and adoption of a privacy standard that does not swallow the rule of public access to records of law enforcement and judicial activity," Swedlund said. "Here the intrusion on privacy incident to this search was warranted by a judicial finding of probable cause. So now the question is whether privacy that was subject to lawful intrusion maybe reasserted to deny the public access to records of law enforcement and judicial activity just because no indictment is returned.”

The court will rule on the case in the coming months.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture
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