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SD Supreme Court: Public Gets to See Sanford Search Warrants

On Wednesday, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a Second Circuit Court ruling to unseal search warrants executed against usury-billionaire T. Denny Sanford.

The ruling refers only to an “Implicated Individual,” so KELO-TV and that Sioux Falls paper politely decline to name names, but KSFY, the Associated Press, The Daily Beast, and other outlets have no qualms about naming the richest man in South Dakota as the subject of the lawsuit says the lawsuit brought by ProPublica and that Sioux Falls paper seeking information concerning the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation’s investigation of Sanford’s possible possession of child pornography.

According to the ruling, written for the unanimous court by Justice Mark Salter, DCI executed search warrants on Sanford’s email account on December 9, 2019, and on his internet or cellular providers on March 13, 2020. They did not search Sanford or his property. DCI asked the court to seal the warrants to avoid fouling the investigation. Circuit Court Judge James Power thought that sealing sounded good at the time, but when ProPublica asked for the records in July 2020, Judge Power “reflected on its authority to enter the earlier orders to seal.” After discussions with and briefs from attorneys for the press and Sanford and a formal hearing on October 7, 2020, Judge Power acknowledged that SDCL 23A-35-4.1 allows him to seal the contents of supporting affidavits “but may not prohibit disclosure that a supporting affidavit was filed, the contents of the warrant, the return of the warrant, nor the inventory.”

Unsatisfied with that plain application of the plain language of statute to the richest man in South Dakota, Sanford, through his attorney, former attorney general Marty Jackley, appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court, which heard closed arguments on August 24, 2021.

Justice Salter says the Second Circuit read the “clear and unambiguous” language of SDCL 23A-35-4.1 correctly:

The plain language of the statute provides an unmistakable expression of legislative intent. A court may seal the contents of an affidavit in support of a search warrant upon a showing of reasonable cause, but only until the investigation is terminated or an indictment or information is filed. The statute’s text is equally clear in its command that the court “may not prohibit” the public disclosure of other specific records, namely, the contents of the warrant, the return of the warrant, and the inventory. Nor may the court prohibit public disclosure of the fact that a search warrant affidavit has been filed. The Press, for its part, has not sought review of the portion of the circuit court’s amended orders sustaining its decision to seal the search warrant affidavits for the time being, and it would seem, from all appearances, that an elementary application of SDCL 23A-35-4.1 disposes of the disclosure issue before us [Justice Mark Salter, opinionIn the Matter of an Appeal by an Implicated Individual, 2021.10.27].

Salter rejected Jackley’s argument that “the judiciary possesses preeminent inherent authority to regulate its records—i.e., that the courts can ignore the Legislature and make up its own rules, the way the Department of Labor and Regulation does—but Justice Salter maintains that even his highest court remains subject to “relevant statutory authority.” Justice Salter says the Legislature may rewrite the law to allow the courts to seal all search warrant records, which Salter says “may well be… a better or more pragmatic approach, but this is not the current state of the law.” Applying SDCL 23A-35-4.1 to unseal the requested information about Sanford’s warrants is “unavoidable”.

But we don’t get to see the Sanford warrants and related documents for about three weeks:

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the case will remain sealed until the petition for the rehearing time expires and the case is remitted back to the trial court. That time is 20 days.

“One of two things will happen either the issue will continue because one of the parties has asked for re-hearings by the supreme court or the case will, in my opinion, be resolved in that the order precluding public access to these warrant materials be granted,” said [USD Law dean Neil] Fulton [staff and Kevin Gonzalez, “South Dakota Supreme Court Unseals Investigation of Billionaire T. Denny Sanford,” KSFY, 2021.10.28].

Sanford has not ben arrested or charged. Austin Goss has reported that killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg “determined that there was enough evidence to charge Sanford in the case, but opted to defer to federal prosecutors because the case spanned across many states.” Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling means that, next month, we’ll get to see some of that evidence.


  1. larry kurtz 2021-10-29 07:25

    Marty Jackley, of course. What a guano show.

    Former State Senator Lynne DiSanto spent loads of air time raising awareness of the abuses committed by the Children’s Home Society near Rapid City in the wake of the disappearance of Serenity Dennard. The Children’s Home Society has been under the regulatory microscope before for violations of trust. One former executive director is none other than Republican former South Dakota Governor Denny Daugaard.

    Billionaire Republican Denny Sanford has given millions to the Children’s Home Society. As the story of his alleged pedophilia broke Carmel, Indiana-based private investigator Veracity I-I-R confirmed that they were hired by Serenity’s family to revisit the steps that led to her disappearance and explore likely outcomes.

  2. John 2021-10-29 08:25

    Imagine being so republicant that Jackley chased Sanford’s money to argue for big government judicial over-reach. Rich irony.

  3. Jake 2021-10-29 09:13

    “Spanning”, Eve and others, is what the SD GQP does best, ain’t it?!!!!

  4. Guy 2021-10-29 09:57

    This will have HUGE implications for the state of South Dakota in politics and business when it’s finally uncovered and what is uncovered. . .

  5. jerry 2021-10-29 10:09

    Could be rebranding time for Sanford Health. Would have to be some kind of weird name like Facebook just did. In other words, the same old crap in a new wrapping. In the meantime, billionaires tend to have the money to draw these kinds of things out. Look at trump and how they have been able to do that. I think the goal is always moved in the hope of the death of those involved.

  6. Guy 2021-10-29 10:23

    Jerry, in a way the current attorney general did a good thing by referring the case to the feds…. that way it be covered up had it remained in the state of South Dakota…..and I have no doubt it would have been covered up because of the implications for politicians in this state who have received alot of donations from Sanford.

  7. Guy 2021-10-29 10:27

    I need to clarify my last statement: it’s a good thing the Attorney General sent this case to the federal Department of Justice.. that way it can NOT be covered up. I believe it would have been covered up had the case and investigation stayed in South Dakota. I think it says a lot that the former Attorney General is the lawyer representing Sanford and wants to go back into serving the office of Attorney General. See why it was a good idea on AG Ravnsborg’s part to send this to the Feds?

  8. ArloBlundt 2021-10-29 17:37’s hard to prosecute a billion dollars…it will be a long time before this goes to trial but the clock is ticking on the elderly Mr. Sanford. Child porn, child sexual abuse, child sex slavery hid under a rock for a hundred years…now that the rock has been rolled over it is truly frightening what has crawled out, and that includes Denny Sanford.

  9. Mark Anderson 2021-10-29 18:03

    Hey folks, he likes kids, what’s wrong with that? We’re about to find out.

  10. larry kurtz 2021-10-29 19:11

    Jason Ravnsborg knows where all the bodies are buried. Punting Sanford to the US Justice Department puts his convention opponent, Marty Jackley, between a rock and pervert. Genius, actually.

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