PORTLAND, Ore. >> The Oregon Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to approve the release of 20,000 confidential Boy Scouts of America documents will give the public its deepest look at people flagged by the organization as suspected child molesters and show how Scouts kept them out of leadership.
The ruling also could make it easier for other secret Boy Scout files to be used in pending and future lawsuits from former scouts who claim they were molested by troop leaders.
“All arguments about confidential files and whether they’re required to be produced publicly, all those issues are now off the table,” said Kelly Clark, the Portland attorney involved in the landmark case that led the state Supreme Court to decide that the 20,000 files are public records.
While confidential Boy Scout files have been used in previous lawsuits, the documents ordered released by the Oregon court constitute the largest number of such records that will be exposed to public scrutiny.
Similar Boy Scout files are being sought in at least 40 cases nationwide against the Texas-based organization. But Thursday’s ruling is not binding in other states. State Supreme Court justices said in their decision Thursday that releasing the files sought in other cases may not always be the correct decision.
The Oregon files, gathered from 1965 to 1985, came to light when they were used as evidence in a lawsuit in 2010. A jury awarded a record $18.5 million to a man who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the early 1980s, finding that the Scouts failed to protect him.
The 20,000 pages — representing files on 1,200 people — are part of a larger trove of confidential documents the Boy Scouts began compiling decades ago. In 1935, the New York Times reported the Scouts had 2,910 “cards” on men who were unfit to supervise boys.
Paul Mones, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys in the landmark case, said the Oregon files reveal “poignant and disturbing” details.
“These files were integral to the jury finding that the BSA failed to use its vast knowledge of sexual predators to protect its Scouts,” Mones said. “Though the BSA has improved its youth protection policies in recent years, the tragic legacy of the abuse of untold numbers of boys remains.”
The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the names of alleged victims and people who reported on suspected abusers be redacted before the documents are released, which could take more than a week to accomplish.
The lengthy timeline covered by the documents means that more people who were abused by Boy Scout leaders will be able to learn from the files whether those leaders were ever flagged as potential molesters, said Patrick Boyle, author of “Scouts’ Honor,” a book on sex abuse in the Scout.
“For victims, (it’s) another way to find out if the man who molested you was ever reported,” said Boyle, who said he gets calls each year from people who want to know if the person who molested them is on the list. “There are people who don’t want to bring lawsuits, they just want to know if their molester’s on this list.”
The Oregon case drew attention to the organization’s efforts to keep child molesters out of its leadership ranks. The files contain accusations against Scout leaders ranging from child abuse to lesser offenses that would prohibit them from working in the Scouts.
The organization says the files have succeeded in keeping molesters out of the Scouts. The group fought to keep the files sealed in the Oregon case, but a judge ruled that they became public record when they were used at trial, prompting the organization to appeal to the state’s highest court.
The Scouts argued opening the files could affect those who were suspected but never convicted of abuse. The organization also said that if the information were to go public, it could prejudice potential jurors in future trials.
After the ruling Thursday, the organization said in a statement that the “Scouts are safer because those files exist.”
“While we respect the court, we are still concerned that the release of two decades’ worth of confidential files into public view, even with the redactions indicated, may still negatively impact victims’ privacy and have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse,” the Scouts said.
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, The Oregonian, The New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW-TV, and Courthouse News Service had challenged the Scouts’ effort to keep the files under seal.
An attorney for the media companies, Charles Hinkle, said he was disappointed that the court’s ruling “does not guarantee that the public has a right to see the evidence that a jury sees when it decides a case.”
Hinkle said that could discourage live testimony in favor of written or video testimony, reducing the public’s opportunity to know the facts on which a decision is based.
The Scouts have faced numerous lawsuits by men who say they were molested as children by Scout leaders, including the case that resulted in the landmark ruling. In that lawsuit, an Oregon jury awarded $18.5 million — the largest payment awarded in a sex abuse case involving the Scouts — to Kerry Lewis, the victim of sex abuse by a former assistant scoutmaster in Portland.
The jury decided the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with Scouts, including Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys, according to court records. Lewis’ attorneys argued the Scouts should have opened the perversion files decades ago.
“This put (the Scouts) on the side of the molesters by keeping it secret, which is not what they intended,” Boyle said. “They were enabling the molestation to continue, inadvertently. It was the company protecting the company.”