SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA – Previously sealed Boy Scout “perversion” files spanning 16 years could soon be in the public eye as part of a negligence lawsuit set for trial Monday that a victim of sex abuse filed against the organization.
Opening statements were scheduled in Santa Barbara, where a man who is now 20 and was molested by a Boy Scout volunteer in 2007 is seeking punitive damages. He claims the Scouts failed to educate and warn parents and volunteers about the dangers of sex abuse.
A judge ruled earlier this month that the man’s attorney, Tim Hale, could introduce more than 30 years’ worth of “perversion” files kept by the Boy Scouts as evidence in the case.
The files cleared for use by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna D. Geck include 16 years of documents — from 1991 to 2007— that have never been seen before.
The papers could reveal how much the organization has improved its efforts to protect children and report abuse after several high-profile cases sparked a youth protection policy in the late 1980s.
Previous large verdicts against the Scouts focused on cases where alleged abuse occurred before the policy was put in place.
In 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Scouts to make public a trove of files from 1965 to 1985. The records showed that more than one-third of abuse allegations never were reported to police and that even when authorities were told, little was done most of the time.
Those documents came to light after a jury in 2010 imposed a nearly $20 million penalty against the Scouts in a molestation case in Portland, Oregon, that dated to the early 1980s.
Since then, plaintiffs’ attorneys in several states have sought to publicize the more recent records through similar lawsuits.
Those cases settled before trial, leaving the records sealed, but there has been no indication that either side in the upcoming California case wants to settle.
The lawsuit alleges that 29-year-old Scouts volunteer Al Stein pulled down the plaintiff’s pants when he was 13 and fondled him while the two worked in a Christmas tree lot.
Stein pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009 and was sentenced to probation. He served time in prison after authorities discovered photos of naked children on his phone.
The Boy Scouts have said Stein’s actions were unacceptable but declined comment on the larger issue of the “perversion” files in the case.
Attorneys for the Scouts have not replied to repeated emails and calls seeking comment. They said in previous court hearings that the documents are not relevant.
Under the judge’s ruling, Hale can draw from thousands of pages of documents when he presents his case, but records that are not used will remain sealed.
After trial, the plaintiff’s counsel and other interested parties can petition the court for the release of all the files. That’s what happened in Oregon, where the state supreme court ordered the Scouts to make all the documents public after The Associated Press and other media outlets intervened.