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Friday, September 14, 2007

S.Dakota Court: Yes, The Guv Can Have a Secret Pheasant Hunt

Think we need a little FOI reform? Here's a court declaring that unless a record is commanded by law, it's not public. Oh, the chicanery this will usher in...

The state's largest newspaper has failed in its legal quest to gain access to the list of people invited to the annual governor's pheasant hunt in 2005.

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday against The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, which had argued that the list is a public record that must be released. People are entitled to know what government officials are doing, the newspaper said.

The high court said no state law requires release of the information, upholding an earlier ruling by a circuit judge who said the list is not a record that is required by state law to be kept.

Generally, records that must be kept by law are public documents unless otherwise specified.

Circuit Judge Max Gors ruled against the newspaper in April 2006.

The invitation list for the hunt, which state officials use to attract businesses to locate in South Dakota, should be made public because it is an official work product of the state economic development office, an Argus Leader lawyer had also argued.

Setting that claim aside, too, the high court said state law gives discretion to the economic development secretary to withhold most of the information the agency receives.

"The right to public inspection is conditional," wrote Circuit Judge John Bastian, in the high court ruling.

Bastian and four other circuit judges were appointed as acting justices to consider the case after all five Supreme Court justices disqualified themselves.

State officials have argued that release of the list of those invited to the exclusive pheasant hunt could jeopardize future business prospects. They also feared that identifying invitees could cause them to become targets for unwanted solicitations.

More here.

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