- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota journalist argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the death records of former state economic development director Richard Benda should be released with some sensitive information redacted.

Justices heard oral arguments from the attorney general’s office and reporter Bob Mercer in his appeal at the state Capitol. A circuit judge ruled against Mercer in September, saying that Attorney General Marty Jackley was justified in not releasing details of Benda’s death out of privacy concerns for the deceased man’s immediate family members.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Hallem argued Tuesday that state law doesn’t require law enforcement investigation records to be disclosed. Mercer argued that there isn’t a blanket ban in statute and that redaction should be used to fill the request for more information about Benda’s death while maintaining privacy for his family.

“He is a public figure of high interest in a situation involving government secrecy that is of high public interest,” Mercer, who writes for several daily newspapers, told The Associated Press after the arguments. “I wasn’t asking for something that I didn’t feel I have a right to.”

Benda’s October 2013 death was ruled a suicide. At the time, Jackley was preparing to file felony theft charges against Benda amid allegations of financial misconduct at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development surrounding the EB-5 visa program. The program recruits wealthy immigrant investors for projects in exchange for green cards.

Jackley had agreed to release more information about Benda’s death but only under certain conditions, chiefly that Benda’s family had to consent. After Benda’s family declined to authorize the release and Jackley wouldn’t provide access to the records, Mercer sought the intervention of an administrative law judge and later the circuit judge.

The attorney general’s office has so-far successfully argued that Mercer’s case should be made before the Legislature to change South Dakota law, not before the courts.

Mercer, who made his case without an attorney, said the court should establish a review standard for future requests of death-investigation records that are of significant public interest.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide