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Short fight for open records in South Dakota courts

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  1. Court Access
The South Dakota Supreme Court decided last week to seal jury records from the public in a bid to protect…

The South Dakota Supreme Court decided last week to seal jury records from the public in a bid to protect personal information and identities.

With the rule change, the court policy went from favoring disclosure to closure: As of Nov. 1, “All records, lists, papers, tickets, and other materials used in all stages of the jury selection process shall be preserved in the custody of the clerk of courts."

According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, South Dakota’s former rule, which kept the records open, were apparently largely "ignored." Court administrator Karl Thoennes told the Argus Leader that people seldom requested these documents; in 2007 only two requests for jury records were made, both during a murder trial, both denied.

Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, fought the rule change. He argued in a letter submitted at the hearing that the courts ought to maintain their transparency.

Decisions on whether to open the records, he said, should be made on a case-by-case basis.

But the high court’s legal counsel, Judith Roberts, told the Argus Leader the letter came too late and was irrelevant to their concerns.

Bordewyk said in a phone interview that the court had already made its decision when his association came up with its own proposed language for the rule.