The Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about the possible release of hundreds of files detailing sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts.
The files were put together by the national leadership of the Boy Scouts between 1965 and 1985.
They contain information about accusations of molestation; actual abuse; the names of victims; and steps the Boy Scouts did and didn’t take to prevent abuse.
The files were introduced as evidence in a recent Multnomah County lawsuit, where an Oregon man, Kerry Lewis, was awarded nearly $20 million in damages.
Now a collection of media outlets, including OPB, The Oregonian, The New York Times and KGW-TV, are petitioning for the files to be made public.
Paul Mones, the attorney for Lewis, says justices have to decide how open Oregon’s courts are going to be.
Paul Mones: “We believe they should be, as the constitution says, ‘open to all’ and that doesn’t just mean, open the door and being able to take a seat. It means being able to have access to the information as admitted into evidence.”
The files were originally brought into the case under a protective order from Multnomah County Judge, John Wittmayer.
After the case finished, he ordered their release. But also gave the Scouts the chance to appeal before the files were actually disseminated.
Supreme Court Justice Thomas Balmer took up the point with Boy Scout lawyer Robert Aldisert.
Aldisert argued that the Scouts were relying on the trial judge’s order.
Robert Aldisert: “He ordered production subject to a protective order that prohibited publishing the documents, prohibited disseminating them outside of the attorneys and the parties to the case …. In reliance on that, the Boy Scouts of America produced these documents. Then at the end of the trial, when nothing changed in the content of those documents… The judge decided no more protection.”
Thomas Balmer: “No, something happened in between. Those documents were admitted into court.”
Robert Aldisert: “Correct”
Thomas Balmer: “You can’t skip that step.”
Robert Aldisert: “I agree your honor. Yes they were admitted into evidence, but nothing changed about the sensitivity of the documents, their confidentiality and there were no fights over whether the documents were confidential or not.”
The attorney for media outlets, Charles Hinkle, told the court that once evidence is presented to a jury, it should then be available to the general public — so cases can’t be decided in private.
Charles Hinkle: “Protective orders don’t govern what happens at trials. Protective orders govern what happens during discovery. And once a document or a bit of evidence of any kind is admitted in evidence, the protective order is out of the case.”
The issue justices were considering is contained in Oregon’s constitution.
It reads: “No court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase.”
But many layers of decisions and interpretations have been overlaid during the last 150 years.
Boy Scouts lawyer, Robert Aldisert, argued that releasing the files could identify victims — contrary to the
legal requirement that child abuse victims are entitled to their privacy.
It’s unclear when the court will issue an opinion.
Meanwhile there are at least two other cases in Oregon in which the Boy Scout files are likely to be called into evidence.