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SD blogger ordered to testify in robo-call case

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MADISON (AP) — A South Dakota blogger should be considered a journalist but still needs to show up to a trial of a Sioux Falls man accused of violating South Dakota election law, a judge has ruled.

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Pat Powers, who operates the conservative political blog South Dakota War College, has written about the case of GOP activist Daniel Willard, who is accused of sending robo-calls attacking Republican political leaders before the 2012 election without disclaimers required by state law. Willard's trial on the misdemeanor charges began Tuesday in Madison.

Powers has cited anonymous sources in some stories giving updates on the criminal investigation, the Argus Leader reported. His attorney argued that he should not have to testify in Willard's trial because Powers is a journalist, protected by the First Amendment from having to divulge confidential sources.

"Mr. Powers has operated his news website since 2005. I think he squarely fits within a criteria as a journalist," attorney Joel Arends argued Monday during a pretrial hearing. "Any news gathering conducted by Mr. Powers is protected by the reporter's privilege."

Willard's lawyer, R. Shawn Tornow, said Powers is not a journalist and should have to testify.

"As a blogger, he's not a journalist," Tornow said. "The information we're asking for is not from confidential sources."

Circuit Judge Vince Foley ruled that bloggers are journalists in the modern sense of the word, but he refused Arends' request to lift the order requiring Powers to attend and testify.

Willard is accused in Lake County in connection with two calls last summer and fall that targeted David Lust, Brian Gosch and Russ Olson for their votes on veterans' issues. The state Division of Criminal Investigation charged him with failing to identify the name and address of the maker of a communication within 60 days of an election, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

High-profile Republicans called by Willard as witnesses for the defense include Secretary of State Jason Gant, state Sen. Dan Lederman, and Tony Venhuizen, a senior adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Arends also represents Lederman in a civil lawsuit Lederman filed against Willard about the robo-calls.

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