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Monday, June 14, 2010

Boy Scouts Argue to Stop Release of "Perversion Files"

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 11:33 AM

Portland lawyer Kelly Clark won a landmark sex abuse case against the Boy Scouts of America last month, when a Multnomah County jury awarded his client $20 million in damages for abuse he endured as a young scout decades ago. But that's only half the battle. Clark was back in court today arguing to Judge John Wittmayer that the Scouts' 20,000 page "Perversion Files" should be made public. Local and national media have signed onto the argument, including the AP, New York Times and Oregonian.

Lawyer Kelly Clark with the Boy Scouts secret perversion files.
  • Lawyer Kelly Clark with the Boy Scout's secret perversion files.

The 1,247 files were the Boy Scouts' system to keep track of people who should be banned from volunteering with troops, including child molesters and known gay men. The files were used as evidence in the groundbreaking child abuse case, but unlike nearly all evidence used in Oregon trials, at the request of the Boy Scouts, the judge ordered the files could not be turned over to media.

"The Boy Scouts of America does not get after all these years that healing does not start until all the secrets are out," Clark said this morning in court, his voice raised and angry. "Break the secrets! Be done with it! The Boy Scouts are asking you to put these files back in a locked cabinet!"

"And all this happens in a state where the constitution says we have open courts, were evidence should be accessible," argued Clark.

I've seen the perversion files—well, the cardboard boxes that they're stacked in, anyway. The actual files are sealed by a court protective order, open to only the lawyers involved in the case. Being able to actually see the files piled up, but not read them... you can imagine how frustrating that is to a reporter.

Below the cut: The boy scouts' opinion.

For the boy scout's argument, lawyer Rob Aldisert (with high-powered Portland firm Perkins Coie) kept away from impassioned speeches and focused on legal facts. There are no cases that exactly match this one, so Judge Wittmayer's decision in this case could set major legal precedent.

"These files have been confidential as far back as anyone can remember," Aldisert said, noting that the people who made allegations in the files were assured by scout policy that they would be anonymous. He compared keeping the names of alleged (but not convicted) abusers out of the public to the laws that allow sexual abuse victims to remain anonymous John or Jane Does in court. Aldisert argued that releasing the files would create such a media sensation that all future juries in these cases would be prejudiced.

Aldisert also read a letter that he says is from one man who was abused in the scouts, pleading for the files to remain closed. "'I've been trying for the past 25 years to put the abuse behind me. Unfortunately the articles in the Oregonian have forced me to relive those terrible days,'" read Aldisert. "Ask yourself: What good can come from the release of those files?" The Boy Scouts are still using the Perversion File system to screen volunteers.

Clark's co-counsel, Dan Lindahl, rebutted that the jury's finding that the Boy Scouts had utterly failed to protect one Oregon scout from abuse shows that the Perversion Files system is not working and has only ever been used to cover up crimes, not inform families of abuse.

Judge Wittmayer asked pointed questions of both sides in the case and is expected to issue his decision later this week.

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