Journalists in Oregon case seek more than 1,000 Boy Scouts files on suspected molesters
PORTLAND, Ore. – PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — News organizations asked a Portland judge on Monday to make public more than 1,000 files on suspected child molesters — records a jury used in April when it found the Boy Scouts of America liable for $20 million in damages.
The Oregon Constitution's requirement for open courts requires the release of the files that were evidence in the case of Kerry Lewis, a man abused in the early 1980s, the organizations' lawyer argued in court.
The Scouts' lawyer said the judge has discretion with such records and releasing them would damage the Scouts' ability to get a fair trial in upcoming abuse cases. Five more await trial in Portland.
The documents were introduced as evidence in the case involving Lewis. One of his lawyers, Kelly Clark, called them "the evidentiary centerpiece of this trial." The jury saw them, but Judge John Wittmayer sealed them.
On Monday, the judge promised to "get a decision out as fast as I can."
The jury awarded Lewis $1.4 million in compensatory damages and assessed the Scouts $18.5 million in punitive damages.
The 1,247 files were described in court Monday as covering two decades and totaling more than 20,000 pages.
The groups seeking the records are The Oregonian, The New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW-TV, The Associated Press and Courthouse News Service.
Their lawyer, Dan Lindahl of Portland, cited the state constitution's Bill of Rights: "No court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase."
The public has an interest in understanding the basis for the decision in the Lewis case involving the use of the government's power to punish a defendant, he said.
The Scouts argue that releasing the information would deter victims and others from coming forward.
Their lawyer, Robert Aldisert of Portland, read a letter from one victim asking the judge not to make the documents public because releasing the names would run counter to standards set in state laws protecting victims of child abuse and in newsrooms, which usually don't use the names of such victims.
Clark joined the journalism organizations and said the Scouts' resistance showed the group "still doesn't get it. The healing doesn't begin until the secrets are out."
During the trial, Lewis told reporters he had no objection to being named.
In May, The Oregonian reported that it had obtained access to a similar set of files that showed no record that the Scouts had alerted authorities to adults suspected of child abuse in 11 cases in Oregon from 1971 to 1991, and that 46 people were dismissed from Scouting in Oregon in those years, most on grounds of child molestation.