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Duggar daughters' case on fall track

Judge wants abuse files suit settled by Ron Wood | April 30, 2021 at 3:35 a.m.
From left, Jessa Seewald, Jill Dillard, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar are shown in this undated combination photo.

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

The daughters sued Springdale and Washington County officials in May 2017 claiming that 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 that Josh Duggar fondled the sisters and at least one other girl. The statute of limitations 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 that 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 says 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 in a status hearing Thursday that 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 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 seem to be a sticking point.

Lawyers for the women said they plan to streamline their damage claims to include money for a lifetime therapy plan and for emotional distress, pain and suffering.

Lawyers for the defendants said the women 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 women 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. The Arkansas Civil Rights Act claims may be dismissed before trial.

Defense lawyers said they still need to conduct about 25 depositions from coast to coast to prepare for trial. They're interested in determining the extent of public knowledge about what happened before 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 before the disclosures, according to court filings.

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

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

The case has been pared 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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