PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A jury awarded $18.5 million in punitive damages against the Boy Scouts of America for their reckless conduct toward a former Scout who was sexually abused by his Scoutmaster. The man's attorney said he believed it's the largest-ever punitive damages award to a single victim of childhood sexual abuse. Under Oregon law, 60 percent of the award will go to the state's victim's crime fund.
Attorneys Paul Mones and Kelly Clark had asked for $25 million in punitive damages.
Plaintiff Kerry Lewis smiled nervously and then embraced his family after Multnomah County Judge John Wittmayer read the jury's award.
There were originally six plaintiffs, but the judge decided to try each case separately. Lewis's trial was the first.
Asked what he hoped people would conclude from the jury's award, Lewis said, "Big corporations are not above the law."
Speaking to other victims, Lewis said, "Don't be scared to take that first step. It is very scary to take that first step, but reach out for help, to whoever it is. Don't be scared, because people will help you."
Lewis said that he thought that the Boy Scouts have a good program, "but you have to keep your eyes open and be aware."
Lewis added, "This has been just exhausting, and right now I just want to go home and mow the yard. But I am going to stay involved in this, because there are other people from my troop still going through it and that is our motto: 'Troop in, troop out.'"
Lewis was referring to the other members of his troop who say they were molested by Scoutmaster Timor Dykes, and whose cases are still pending.
Clark, who also represents Dykes' other alleged victims, cited the words of another client: "When we were little kids in the LDS Church they said we were all brothers. Then this horrible man came into our lives and did this terrible thing to us and they stuck with him, and the Boy Scouts said the same thing to us, but then they stuck to each other. Well, now we are going to stick together."
Clark said that in all of the cases he had tried, against the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and government organizations, he had never seen an organization litigate in a less compromising, more "bare knuckled" style.
"Not once in two years did they ever ask how our client was or how his family was. ... Even the Catholic Church, in the middle of litigation, offered counseling services and showed concern for the victims," Cark said.
Mones added, "The Boy Scouts of America chose the way they were going to defend this case and every witness was deliberately chosen for the things they were going to say. So that when every one of those Boy Scout officials said they didn't look at what was in IV files, which we thought was remarkable, and the jury came back with the decision it did, well, maybe that will convince them something needs to change. But maybe not. Maybe it will take hundreds and now thousands of civil cases like with the Catholic Church to change."
The Portland jury was the first ever to see the Scouts' Ineligible Volunteer filed. The so-called "perversion files" formed a central part of the litigation. Plaintiff's attorneys secured the files from the Boy Scouts after an order from the Oregon Supreme Court.
Now Judge Wittmayer must decide what will happen to those files. Charles Smith, representing the Boy Scouts, argued that the files should remain under a protective order and stay confidential.
But Clark said Smith's position is not consistent with the Oregon Constitution, which states that material admitted as evidence during trials remains public record.
Asked if he feared that making the IV files public would open floodgates of litigation, Clark said he did not think so.
"Even if these files are made public, with the names of the victims redacted, their real power is in preventing the continued abuse by the men who are the most recent entries and may still be active in the Scouts," he said.
Several news organizations, including Courthouse News Service, have joined a motion to compel Judge Wittmayer to keep the IV files in the public domain.
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