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Arkansas Judge Dismisses Duggar Sisters’ Lawsuit

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A federal judge in Arkansas has dismissed a lawsuit filed by four of Josh Duggar’s sisters that claimed local government officials improperly provided police records to a magazine about abuse that occurred when they were minors.

The sisters, Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo, and Joy Duggar (at the time the lawsuit was filed, now Joy Forsyth), claimed Springdale and Washington County officials’ release of police documents to In Touch magazine in 2015 violated Arkansas laws prohibiting the public disclosure of information that directly or indirectly identifies a victim of a sex offense.

The magazine published information gleaned from the documents, which it had obtained through an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request, in a story calling out Duggar patriarch Jim Bob for being aware of accusations of sexual misconduct involving then-teenager Josh but not reporting them to authorities. The article said that although Josh’s name was redacted from the police reports, it had confirmed that the censored passages referred to him.

The sisters claimed in the lawsuit that despite the redactions, there was enough information in the documents to identify them as the victims, violating sexual abuse victim protection laws.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks acknowledged in his dismissal that while officials should not have released the records, the evidence showed they had tried to protect the victims through the redactions, and that revelation of their identities was not intentional.

Defendants in the case were former Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County sheriff’s office; Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney; and former Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley. Other defendants, including the publisher of In Touch, were previously dismissed from the case, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.

Brooks said the defendants had hurried to release the documents In Touch had requested and had failed to take the time to consider other laws that protect the rights of sex offense victims.

“The individual defendants were seasoned government officials tasked with the responsibility of deciding which governmental records should be publicly released and which should not,” Brooks wrote in the dismissal. “Yet all individual defendants were seemingly ignorant of the privacy rights Arkansas affords to sexual assault victims and to families that are identified as ‘in need of services.'”

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But, Brooks said, the lawsuit failed to meet the burden of proving that the defendants knew they lacked the legal authority to disclose the records. He said there was “no evidence on which a jury could rely to show that defendants believed that disclosing the reports would be illegal.”

Josh Duggar, now 33 and the father of seven children, was convicted in December 2021 of downloading and possessing child pornography. He is awaiting sentencing and faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Duggar family has acknowledged the girls were molested by Josh from approximately March of 2002 until March of 2003. Josh was 14 years old when the abuse began and 15 years old when it ended, and the girls ranged from 5 to 11 years old.

Jim Bob and his wife Michelle Duggar discovered the abuse but did not alert public officials, the lawsuit said, instead attempting to deal with the behavior personally. They later turned to family friends Jim and Bobye Holt for help.

An unsent letter written by the Holts’ daughter Kaeleigh containing information about the abuse was found in 2006 by a friend, who shared the contents with her parents, per the Democrat Gazette. The Arkansas Department of Human Services Hotline received two tips about the case as the news about the accusations became more widespread.

The Springdale Police Department opened an investigation, assisted by the Washington County sheriff’s office and the Arkansas State Police, and a Family in Need of Services case was opened in Washington County Juvenile Court by the Washington County prosecutor’s office.

The police investigation concluded that Josh Duggar had fondled his sisters and a family babysitter, but no criminal charges were filed as the statute of limitations had expired.

A reality show about the Duggar family, “19 Kids and Counting” began its run on TLC in 2008 and was canceled in 2015 after the In Touch article brought the past abuse to light. A spinoff show, “Counting On,” following Seewald, Vuolo, Forsyth, and other family members, aired from 2015 to 2021.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.