Mother Of Murdered Anchor Sill Locked in Lawsuit

Almost eight years after Little Rock News Anchor TV Anne Pressly was fatally beaten in her home, one final court battle remains.

But it doesn't involve her killer, Curtis Vance, now serving a life sentence in an Arkansas prison for capital murder, rape, burglary and theft.

The legal question that remains is whether the hospital where Pressly was treated can be sued, along with a doctor and two former staff members, for illegally snooping into Pressly's medical records as she lay dying.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson said at a recent hearing that he hopes to reach a decision by the end of this week, a ruling that would come just before what would have been Pressly's 34th birthday.

Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, sued St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, staff members Candida Griffin and Sarah Elizabeth Miller, and Dr. Jay Holland in October 2009, about a month before the criminal trial.

The two hospital employees and the physician had pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor medical-privacy violations, for which they received probation and fines, sentences they have completed.

Griffin and Miller were fired from their hospital jobs. Miller, who looked at Pressly's records 12 times on the first two days that the TV personality was in the hospital, had been a patient-accounts representative at the hospital's Sherwood branch.

Miller said she didn't think she was breaking any laws by looking, testifying in the course of the litigation that she believed at the time that she would be breaking the law only if she had told anyone else what she'd seen.

Griffin accessed the records once on the day after Pressly arrived at the hospital after the badly beaten woman had been moved into intensive care.

Griffin had been the emergency-room unit coordinator at the main hospital in Little Rock and has testified during the litigation that she looked at the records only to see what room Pressly had been assigned to, trying to determine whether she had died.

Holland, owner of the Hillcrest Family Clinic, was not a hospital employee. He was medical director of Select Specialty Hospital, a St. Vincent tenant that has since closed in Little Rock.

Holland briefly looked at Pressly's records the day she was attacked, using his home computer to access the hospital's system. He told FBI agents he wanted to see whether Pressly was still alive.

St. Vincent suspended his privileges for two weeks and made him take an online training course about federal medical-privacy laws.

He also was fined $500 and reprimanded by state medical regulators in a separate proceeding. He told the Arkansas State Medical Board he looked at the record for 26 seconds, wondering whether he could help because of special wound-care training he's had that could significantly reduce scarring.

His attorney told board members that 17 people, including several doctors, had looked at Pressly's records but only Holland and the two women were charged.

Hospital officials acknowledged firing some employees in connection with the records breaches, but declined to elaborate.

Cannady's lawsuit estimates there could have been as many as seven other doctors involved with access like Holland's.

Cannady's lawsuit has been unsuccessful so far. The judge dismissed the case in October 2011, ruling that Cannady cannot assert privacy violations on behalf of her late daughter.

On appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld that ruling but reinstated another claim made by Cannady: that the defendants' behavior had been so outrageous that she had been damaged by it.

At a hearing Thursday, attorneys for the defendants told the judge that Arkansas courts require such a high bar of proof to establish an "outrage" claim that those cases are rarely successful.

To be successful, Cannady would have to prove that the defendants engaged in behavior so "extreme and outrageous" that it "shocks the conscience," St. Vincent attorney Emily Runyon said.

"It has to be beyond all bounds of decency ... intolerable [behavior]," she told the judge. "Outrage simply does not exist in this case."

Cannady's attorney, Jim Schultze, disputed whether the women had been truly forthcoming in describing why they looked at the records.

The defendants all "violated the rules of civility we all live by" to satisfy their own "voyeuristic desires," and their explanations for why they looked at the records raises questions about the quality of St. Vincent's privacy training and whether the hospital should have foreseen something like this happening, he said.

"We're talking about an action that is utterly intolerable in a civil society," Schultze said. "This is conduct that can't be tolerated by a civil society."

Pressly, bright and blonde and with a flashing smile, was beaten beyond recognition in her 1940s-era rental home in Little Rock's upscale Heights neighborhood.

The Club Road house's owners sold it about eight months after she was killed, and the new owners tore it down to rebuild. Pressly's friends prayed and released pink balloons when demolition began. A 2,424-square-foot brick frame house, appraised at $516,800, was built on the site in 2010.

H/T ArkansasOnline