Supreme Court: Release T. Denny Sanford court records
Affidavits outlining child porn investigation could come by month’s end
South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern speaks during oral arguments March 22, 2023, in Brookings. Also pictured are Justice Scott Myren, left, and Chief Justice Steven Jensen. (Dave Bordewyk/South Dakota Newspaper Association)
Court records ought to be released to the public that could finally shed light on why the property of South Dakota’s richest man was searched as part of a child pornography investigation, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
It’s the second loss in a row at the state’s high court for T. Denny Sanford, who was never charged with a crime after searches of his property three years ago. Sanford is a philanthropist and the owner of First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard.
Sanford initially sought to keep secret the five search warrant affidavits and other materials related to the now-closed investigation. Sanford lost that case in the state Supreme Court in 2021, which precipitated the release of some – but not all – of the records associated with the search warrants.
It is evident that the circuit court viewed Sanford’s most recent motion as a belated and unpersuasive effort to further delay the unsealing of the affidavits required by statute.
– South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Steven Jensen
The affidavits, which would be released near the end of April barring further legal action by Sanford, could expose the underlying information that sparked the investigation.
Affidavits are sworn statements to a judge from law enforcement that explain the reasons for seeking search warrants. Such documents typically present the evidence already known to investigators, outline why a search warrant is necessary and what information the investigators intend to seek.
Minnehaha County Judge James Power ruled that the Sanford affidavits could compromise an ongoing investigation, but that they should be open to the public once the investigation was completed. The investigation ended last spring. Sanford had broken no state laws, detectives found.
Sanford’s legal team once again appealed to block the release of the documents. This time, Sanford’s lawyers did not argue that the affidavits ought to be closed in perpetuity, but rather that their client ought to be allowed to screen them and request that personal and proprietary information be scrubbed prior to any public release.
Judge Power denied that request last June, setting up the second Supreme Court appeal.
In their ruling on Thursday, the justices said that Power’s redactions of personal information are sufficient, and that Sanford has no explicit right to request a preview.
Thursday’s 5-0 opinion, authored by Chief Justice Steven Jensen, sides with Power, who “noted that Sanford had not cited any authority that would require the court to permit the parties to participate in the redaction process.”
The state Division of Criminal Investigation, the ruling notes, joined lawyers for media organizations in opposing additional delays. The DCI characterized Sanford’s appeal as a request for “a special right of access” to the documents.
“It is evident that the circuit court viewed Sanford’s most recent motion as a belated and unpersuasive effort to further delay the unsealing of the affidavits required by statute,” the ruling says.
Even so, the ruling says, Judge Power had offered Sanford every opportunity to make his case for delay, and that Power had issued a thoughtful and reasoned decision rejecting it.
Stacy Hegge, who represented Sanford at the March hearing at the Supreme Court, said her team had no comment on the ruling.
Read the ruling below.T. Denny Sanford SCOSD Ruling
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