Judge Says Duggar 911 Call a Separate Issue from Juvenile Case

By Ron Wood
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
August 19, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE -- A juvenile court judge denied motions Tuesday from Springdale and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette related to whether police should release copies of a 911 call in May from outside the Jim Bob Duggar home.

Washington County Circuit Judge Stacey Zimmerman said the 911 call and any related documents are outside the scope of any orders she issued related to a 2007 Families in Need of Services case involving the Duggar family.

Springdale police released in June a number of documents requested by Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Doug Thompson under the Freedom of Information Act, but didn't include the May 27 audio recording of a 911 call. The call had previously been released to In Touch magazine and received extensive press coverage.

The magazine's account of the recording says the 911 caller identified himself as a Washington County case worker for the state Department of Human Services. He was quoted as giving the Duggar's address and saying: "We have an investigation, and I guess they're not being cooperative. We have to see the child to make sure the child is all right. So we just need police assistance."

Springdale filed a motion June 12 with Zimmerman to intervene in an underlying juvenile case along with a proposed pleading. The documents were filed under seal, at the behest of the court, and city officials declined to provide copies.

The city wanted to know from the judge if officials had to release the 911 documents requested. The newspaper sought to intervene as well and also filed a motion under seal.

In seeking direction from the court, police cited an order by Zimmerman in May telling the department to destroy all copies of a 2006 police investigation of the Duggar family's oldest son, Josh.

"These new items that have come into existence are not part of the juvenile case," Zimmerman said Tuesday. "The 2007 FINS case has not been reopened. It is not an open case."

Zimmerman said she's not allowed by law to issue an advisory opinion on whether the recording of the 911 call should be released.

"You want an advisory opinion and courts can't do that," Zimmerman said at Tuesday's hearing.

Rusty Turner, editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said the paper will continue to pursue the records from the city.

"Since we now know that Judge Zimmerman's various orders don't apply to the records we asked to see, we'll renew our request with the city of Springdale under the Freedom of Information Act," Turner said. "We anticipate receiving those records in a timely manner, without the need for further litigation."

Thompson renewed his request for the documents Tuesday afternoon.

Brandon Cate, an attorney for the newspaper, told Zimmerman the paper's interest in seeking to intervene wasn't about the underlying juvenile case.

"We see the issue being the 911 call in the possession of the city of Springdale," Cate said. "It's hard to deny its release to my client when it's already been released to others."

Tom Kieklak, an attorney for the city, said in light of Zimmerman's decision, he expects the city will now be sued by the newspaper, representatives of the Duggar family or some other entity seeking a court order on whether the 911 call should be released.

"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Kieklak said Tuesday."We continue to get requests. Now, we're getting requests about the requests people are making."

Zimmerman, who's the administrative judge for the circuit, said should a FOIA lawsuit be filed over the 911 call, the case will be assigned to another judge, and she will not hear it.

In 2006, police investigated after receiving an anonymous tip Josh Duggar, now 27, fondled five girls in 2002 and 2003. Duggar, a juvenile at the time, was never charged, but acknowledged wrongdoing in a statement released after media reports ran in May. His parents and two sisters who were victims later confirmed the acts in interviews with Fox News.

In Touch and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained copies May 20 through an FOIA request of a redacted 2006 Springdale police report on Duggar's acts. Zimmerman issued a court order May 21 forbidding any further release of the police report. Zimmerman also ordered the police report destroyed.

What appear to be at least two more supplemental orders by Zimmerman further restricting the release of records concerning the Duggars came to light in a Springdale Civil Service Commission complaint filed by former Alderman Ray Dotson on June 3. Dotson asked the commission to look into whether laws were broken in the original release of the police report. The orders all had case J 2007-38. That case is a sealed juvenile court file.


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