Zachery Tims Update: Judge witholds ruling until after the holiday


By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel

State Supreme Court Judge Cynthia S. Kern withheld judgment today on whether the cause of Zachery Tims’ death should be released to the public or kept  confidential to the family.

The judge is not expected to rule before Monday, a court official said.

Tims, 42, pastor of New Destiny Christian Church in Apopka,  was found dead in a New York City hotel room Aug. 12. The cause of death was not determined, prompting an autopsy and toxicology tests by the New York City  medical examiner’s office

Attorneys for Madeline Tims, the preacher’s mother who filed the lawsuit to  keep the cause of death confidential, argued this morning before Kern that the medical examiner’s autopsy and toxicology reports are medical records and should not be released without permission from the family.

They also contend that death certificates of people whose deaths do not fall under the medical examiner’s office are not public record — so those
investigated by the medical examiner should not be either.

“My position is that unless they have a legal authority to disclose this information, an administrative agency is restrained from doing so,” said
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City attorneys representing the medical examiner’s office contend that while the toxicology and autopsy reports are confidential, the manner and cause of  death are not.

Ave Maria Brennan, senior counsel with the New York City Law Department,  argued that there is nothing in state law that expressly prohibits the release  of a person’s cause of death. That gives the medical examiner the authority to  release the information while withholding the report itself, Brennan argued.

“We affirm that the city has a right to release cause and manner of death upon public inquiry,” Brennan said.

Oquendo disagreed, arguing that there is no distinction between a report and the information contained within it.

Anthony Suarez, the Orlando attorney representing Madeline Tims, said the medical examiner’s practice of releasing the cause of death had never been challenged before.

“That’s just the tradition and custom they’ve done before,” he said.

Madeline Tims filed her lawsuit Oct. 7, just as the medical examiner’s office was about to release the cause and manner of her son’s death.

Police investigating Tims’ death found no evidence of foul play. Oquendo said he doesn’t expect a quick opinion from the judge, who has 60
days to make a ruling.

“No one has a crystal ball into the judge’s mind,”Oquendo said. “Bottom line:  It’s a 50-50 toss-up.”


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