NYC Fights for Right to Disclose Zachery Tims' Cause of Death

New York City authorities continue their fight to publicly disclose the cause and manner of death of Zachery Tims, the former senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center (NDCC) in Apopka, Fla. Tims' August death remains a mystery to the public as the legal battle between the minister's family and the City continues.

The lawyers representing New York City and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) claimed in paperwork filed Friday, Jan. 27 that the minister's mother, Madeline Tims, acting as the representative of Tims' estate, has no legal standing to prevent officials from releasing the information on the cause of the pastor's death.

The medical examiner's office had planned to publicly disclose the minister's cause and manner of death months ago, but was prevented from doing so when Tims' family sued in October to keep that information private. In December, Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Cynthia S. Kern ruled the medical examiner's office has legal standing the to release Tims' cause of death, as there is no specific law prohibiting it from doing so. In response, on Jan. 11, Madeline Tims appealed Kern's decision, therefore temporarily preventing the City from making that information public.

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In its Friday filing, the City asked the court for the right to reveal the information nevertheless. The lawyers argued that the minister's mother is "not likely" to succeed in her appeal. The City also argued that the court was correct in acknowledging the medical examiner's right to disclose the information, and that Madeline Tims' appeal was "improper."

In addition, the City's lawyers highlighted Madeline Tims' own statement acknowling that her son was a public figure, which is the primary reason officials seek to disclose information regarding his cause of death.

"Here, it cannot be ignored that (…) appellant herself stated that [Zachery] Tims was a very prominent Pastor in central Florida and throughout the country and that his untimely death has prompted significant media interest surrounding the circumstances of his death," the filing reads.

Autopsy and toxicology reports are not considered matters of public record in New York, but there is also no law prohibiting the medical examiner's office from releasing the cause or manner of death of an individual.

"There is a strong public policy in favor of disclosure by the OCME of the cause and manner of death of Tims, as well as of others, as the Medical Examiner is charged by law with the responsibility of investigating and determining the cause of death of persons who die in unusual circumstances," the City's lawyers argued in the Friday filing.

Zachery Tims was found dead on Aug. 12, 2011, in a New York City hotel room. Local media have reported, citing inside sources, that white powder was discovered in his pants pocket, fueling speculation that the 42-year-old minister may have died of a drug overdose.

During a previous hearing, Tims' mother admitted that releasing the cause of his death could potentially embarrass his family, which led further speculation that drugs may have been involved.

If Madeline Tims loses her appeal, she could turn to the Court of Appeals (given that the court agrees to hear her case, which it is not obliged to do), a NYC Law Department representative told CP recently. If Tims wins before that appellate court, the City would be prohibited from releasing Tims' cause of death, but it could then also try to appeal, Connie Pankratz, Deputy Communications Director with the NYC Law Department, told CP via email.

Tims rose to national prominence through a charismatic preaching style. He was known to have had struggled with drugs in the past, which he described in his book, It's Never Too Late: How a Teenage Criminal Found His Divine Destiny, Became a Successful Businessman, and Pastor of a Thriving Church With a Global Ministry.

Paula White, another popular and charismatic pastor in Florida, replaced late Tims as senior pastor at NDCC in January.

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