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A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by four sisters of disgraced 19 Kids and Counting star Josh Duggar over the release of police records in his molestation investigation in the mid-2000s. The docs in question stated that Josh sexually abused four of his sisters and another girl when he was a minor.
Siblings Jill Duggar Dillard, Jessa Duggar Seewald, Jinger Duggar Vuolo and Joy-Anna Duggar Forsyth sued Springdale and Washington County officials in Arkansas over the release of the records, which were improperly handed over to the media in 2015, claiming invasion of privacy and outrage. Their attorneys said the documents were improperly redacted, making the victims easy to identify. While their names weren't explicitly mentioned, the victims were referred to as "Joshua's sisters" and the age of one victim was listed.
The case, initially brought by Jill and Jessa in 2017 with Jinger and Joy-Anna joining later, has had a long history but the judge said in the ruling that the plaintiffs had not met the legal standard to prove that the defendants — investigators and government officials — knowingly violated their authority by releasing the information. While it was wrong that the documents were released, because they detailed molestation claims among minors (Josh was age 14 to 15 with victims ranging in age from 5 to 11), authorities believed erroneously that they were legally obligated to do so. The judge said law enforcement agencies and the city of Springdale were "immune" from liability in the case.
Dillard reacted to the dismissal in a statement on her website Thursday saying, "We are disappointed with the ruling." She called it "unfortunate that bad actors" are "given a license to intentionally inflict pain without regard for innocent victims." However, she said they felt "vindicated by the fact that the judge recognized that the law was clear that the records never should have been released."
She continued, "This should have never happened, and we hope this never happens again to anyone... We will continue to fight for victims’ rights. In the pursuit of justice, the impact on victims, especially child sex victims, should not be an afterthought, and they should not be relegated to collateral damage."
According to the ruling, from approximately March 2002 until March 2003, the "plaintiffs were sexually abused by their brother, Joshua. He was 14 years old when the abuse began and 15 years old when it ended. At the time of the abuse, the plaintiffs ranged in age from 5 to 11 years old. Their parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, discovered the abuse but did not report it to the police or any state agency. Instead, they decided to keep it a secret and discipline Joshua privately."
That discipline "did not work," so they turned to family friends for help. It remained a secret until a letter written about it by the daughter of a family friend was discovered. In 2006, tips were called in to Arkansas Department of Human Services Hotline that Josh had molested his sisters. One came from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios — as the large, religious family had started to garner attention and were supposed to appear on Oprah. The show received an anonymous tip claiming Josh sexually abused his siblings.
By then, Josh was 18. He, his parents and the plaintiffs were called in to Children’s Safety Center in Springdale in 2007 and interviewed by authorities over the tips, according to the judge's ruling. They were told the interviews were confidential. As a result of the investigation, a juvenile court record was opened, but no charges were brought against Josh nor were children removed from the Duggar home.
The following year, TLC's 17 Kids and Counting debuted and the Duggars became TV stars — and ones who were largely scrutinized by the tabloids. It wasn't until 2015 that the magazine In Touch Weekly filed a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request seeking reports mentioning the Duggars. Authorities ultimately agreed to release redacted documents. The documents shouldn't have been released, due to laws protecting the identity of victims of sex crimes, but by then stories had already been run and the news was out. A judge ordered the the remaining reports be destroyed.
Josh, who was married with children, was a lobbyist for the Family Research Council at that point and resigned due to the surfaced allegations. He apologized publicly, saying "Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends." The family's show was canceled. Jessa and Jill gave an interview to Megyn Kelly saying their brother was wrong, but defended him saying to call him a pedophile or rapist was "overboard." Months later, Josh apologized — to his wife — for another scandal amid the Ashley Madison breach.
Of course, Josh was convicted in December of one count each of receiving and possessing child pornography. A Homeland Security Investigations special agent called the digital materials Josh — a father of seven — viewed on the computer at his used car lot was "the worst of the worst" and involved minors ranging from the age of 12 to 18 months. He is awaiting sentencing, and faces up to 20 years in prison. Last month, his attorneys filed a motion for acquittal.