By Peg Brickley
WILMINGTON, Del. -- As the Boy Scouts of America hurries to emerge from bankruptcy and put allegations of sexual abuse to rest, lawyers for victims want the organization's "dark side" revealed in its bankruptcy proceedings.
With billions of dollars worth of land, buildings, cash and investments to protect, the Boy Scouts appeared for the first time on Wednesday before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, where a lawyer for the organization, Jessica Boelter, said it recognized the harm endured by victims of childhood sexual abuse.
The bankruptcy filing is designed to resolve allegations of sexual abuse in 275 existing lawsuits and from thousands of more people who haven't filed papers in court.
"We need to move through this bankruptcy as quickly as possible," Ms. Boelter told a packed courtroom.
Lawyers for abuse victims said they are looking to the bankruptcy process as a way to find out more about circumstances surrounding allegations of widespread abuse of boys as young as 5 years old by scoutmasters and others connected to the organization.
"We're not here because the Boy Scouts do a great job at taking care of boys or training boys," said James Stang, a lawyer for sexual-abuse survivors. "There's a very dark side to their history."
He said the 10 law firms he advises are representing "probably more than 2,700 men" combined, some of which are elderly, sick or have pressing psychological counseling needs."
The legacy of abuse didn't all occur a long time ago, according to other victims' lawyers who spoke in bankruptcy court. Two lawyers said they had teenage clients, implying the abuse continued after the group put special protections in place in recent years.
Victims' lawyers are pushing for the disclosure of a list of more than 7,800 alleged pedophiles contained in the organization's internal files, known within the Boy Scouts as ineligible volunteers. In lawsuits, the documents became known as the perversion files.
Some names have surfaced in lawsuits over the years, brought into court as evidence that the Boy Scouts knew that children were being abused and failed to act. The entire list, however, has never been revealed.
"Make sure those names are made public so that the communities can know and kids can be saved," said Mike Finnegan, a lawyer who represents 250 men who say they were abused as children during Boy Scouts activities.
In court Wednesday, Mr. Finnegan questioned whether the files on ineligible volunteers would be included in a database set up by the Boy Scouts to exchange closely held financial information with bankruptcy creditors.
Paul Mones, a lawyer who represented a former Boy Scout in an Oregon case a decade ago that spurred the release of some of the files, told the court he had heard from "confused, upset and angry men" after the Boy Scouts entered bankruptcy.
Studies have shown many survivors suppress memories of their abuse for decades, struggling with depression, alcohol abuse and other problems stemming from their experiences. After preparing themselves to put their claims against the Boy Scouts before a jury, survivors were shocked and angered when the organization filed for bankruptcy, several lawyers said.
Going to trial "was a real commitment to them, and it was really, really difficult," said Gilion Dumas, a victims' attorney who was scheduled to pick a jury in Oregon on Friday before the Boy Scouts sought chapter 11 protection.
The chapter 11 filing automatically froze pending lawsuits against the Boy Scouts, though not against the 261 local scouting councils spread across the country, which in many instances are also being sued by abuse victims but didn't file for bankruptcy.
The Boy Scouts are seeking to prevent the lawsuits from going forward against the local councils, which account for about 70% of the organization's wealth, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. The group wants to move the claims out of state courts and into a closed-door mediation in which lawyers can attempt to hash out a settlement.
"Just as they didn't have control over the situation when they were abused as children, they don't have control anymore," Ms. Dumas said.
Write to Peg Brickley at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 19, 2020 20:06 ET (01:06 GMT)
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