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Federal judge wants to hear Duggar girls' lawsuit in the fall

by Ron Wood | April 30, 2021 at 7:32 a.m.
From left, Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar are shown in this undated composite photo.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A judge wants to hear this fall the remaining claims in a federal lawsuit brought by the Duggar daughters over the release to the media of police reports of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of their brother.

Four daughters of the Jim Bob Duggar family sued Springdale and Washington County officials in May 2017 claiming they improperly released redacted police investigation documents to a celebrity magazine, In Touch. The magazine published the information, which allowed the girls to be identified, the suit said.

The police investigation concluded Josh Duggar fondled the sisters and at least one other girl. The statute of limitation had run out and no criminal charges were filed.

The daughters are Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar.

The sisters' lawsuit claims their due process rights under the Arkansas Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated by disclosing the reports and details of the investigation to the magazine. The lawsuit alleges publicizing their trauma subjected the women and their families "to extreme mental anguish and emotional distress."

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks told the sides at a status hearing Thursday the case has been pending on his docket for four years and needs to be resolved. Brooks sent the lawyers back with instructions to figure out how they can make that happen and to then report back.

Brooks said if they can't reach an agreement he will, reluctantly, consider moving the case again but said he doesn't know when he'd be able to work it in among other pending cases.

The case is set for Sept. 20 in Fayetteville.

Potential damages in the case seems to be a sticking point.

Lawyers for the girls said they plan to streamline their damage claims in the case back to money for a lifetime therapy plan and money for emotional distress, pain and suffering.

Lawyers for the defendants said the girls have chosen to tell parts of their stories publicly in various ways and that could negate their damages claims.

Defendants recently filed a motion to have the remaining claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction after federal law claims in the case were dismissed. Lawyers for the girls haven't responded to that motion, but Brooks said he isn't inclined to grant the motion. The remaining state law claims involve invasion of privacy and outrage. Arkansas Civil Rights Act claims may be dismissed before trial.

The defense said they still need to do about 25 depositions from coast to coast to prepare for trial. They're interested in finding out about the extent of public knowledge about what had happened prior to the redacted disclosures by the defendants. They believe the things recorded in the redacted reports that were disclosed were widely known in multiple circles and by dozens, if not hundreds, of people prior to the disclosures, according to court filings.

Brooks told them to start with 15 depositions, then come back to discuss whether more are required.

Lawyers for the girls also asked Brooks whether he would entertain a protective order for sensitive information involving the girls. Brooks didn't indicate how he would rule on such a motion.

The case has been pared down considerably over the years with most defendants, including the magazine publisher, being dismissed. The remaining defendants are all affiliated with Springdale and Washington County and include former Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff's Office; Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney; and former Police Chief Kathy O'Kelley, in their individual capacities.

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