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Springdale, Washington County officials appeal denial of immunity in Duggar lawsuit

FAYETTEVILLE -- Three people have filed appeals after a federal judge refused to dismiss them from a lawsuit claiming officials improperly released decade-old information about an investigation into Josh Duggar sexually abusing four of his sisters.

Four daughters of the Jim Bob Duggar family sued Springdale and Washington County officials in May, claiming they improperly released redacted police investigation documents to a celebrity magazine. The magazine published the information, which allowed the girls to be identified, the suit says. The investigation determined Josh Duggar fondled the sisters and at least one other girl. The statute of limitation had run out and no charges were filed.

Legal lingo

Interlocutory appeal

An appeal of a ruling by a trial court that is made before the trial itself has concluded. It asks an appellate court to review an aspect of the case before the trial. Interlocutory appeals are typically permitted when an important question of law is in doubt and that it will substantially affect the final result of the case. Judicial economy then dictates that the court resolve the issue rather than subject the parties to a trial that may be reversed on an appeal from a final judgment.

Source: Staff report

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

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U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks denied a request to dismiss former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O'Kelley, Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate and Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff's Office from the lawsuit in their individual capacities. The three had claimed qualified and statutory immunity from being sued for invasion of privacy.

The appeals are at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The three are asking the case be put on hold until the appeals court rules.

"The Springdale defendants are entitled to have questions of immunity resolved before being required to engage in discovery and other pretrial proceedings," according to a brief. "Furthermore, discovery would be wasteful and burdensome at this point."

The sisters' lawsuit claims their due process rights under the Arkansas Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated by disclosing the reports and details of the investigation to the celebrity magazine.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Brooks refused to dismiss the due process claims against O'Kelley, Cate, and Hoyt in their individual capacities saying the girls had a reasonable expectation the information wouldn't be released to the public.

Brooks noted that, at the time the information was released, there was a state statute exempting any information created, collected or compiled by or on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Arkansas State Police or other entities authorized to perform investigations or provide services to children and families from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Brooks ruled Springdale and Washington County should be dismissed from the lawsuit as well as former County Attorney Steve Zega and Cate, in their official capacities.

A hearing is set for Friday in which Brooks is expected to consider pending motions in a similar suit filed by Josh Duggar, including motions to dismiss various parties and to consolidate the cases.

NW News on 10/12/2017

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