PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A state judge ordered the Boy Scouts of America to release its secret files documenting 20 years of sexual abuse from scoutmasters – with the names redacted – but the order was put on hold when the Boy Scouts immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court. Some of the files were entered as evidence in a sexual assault case here that resulted in an $18.5 million damages award against the Boy Scouts.
Multnomah County Court Judge John Wittmeyer wrote: “The strong direct and clear language of the [Oregon] constitution that ‘no court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered openly …’ brings the Court to the conclusion that the dictates of Article 1, Section 10 are not limited to the opportunity of the public and the press to be present physically in the courtroom during court proceedings, but extend more broadly to the right of the public and the press to know what evidence is presented in court proceedings and is available for consideration the jury in reaching its verdict.”
Wittmeyer rejected the Boy Scouts’ argument that the Oregon Constitution guarantees access only to court proceedings.
Wittmeyer’s ruling essentially granted all the motions made by Kerry Lewis, the plaintiff in the sexual assault trial who was awarded the $18.5 million in punitive damages. Kelly Clark, Lewis’ attorney, had asked that the Scouts’ so-called “perversion files” be released immediately; he did not object to the redaction of names in the files.
Wittmeyer’s ruling was a partial victory for media interveners, including Courthouse News Service, which sought immediate access to the files without redaction of names.
Wittmeyer stayed his own order pending appeal, agreeing with the Scouts that if the files were made available immediately the damage would already be done if an appellate court overturned his ruling.
But Wittmeyer refused to grant a stay on his order pending conclusion of all the cases for which plaintiff’s attorney said the files would be used as evidence, arguing that good lawyers and careful attention by the court during voir dire would detect any prejudice to jurors.
The defense argued that release would have made obtaining a fair trial in Multnomah County impossible.
The judge also rejected the Scouts’ argument that he had discretion to balance the interests of the defense in being protected from prejudice that might be generated against them in pending sex abuse trials. Wittmeyer wrote that interests of the public as provided in Article 1, Section 10 were of constitutional magnitude so that no balancing test against the interests of the defense were allowed.
The Boy Scouts argued that files should remain sealed under the judge’s protective order indefinitely, because they were confidential, and their release could deter future victims from reporting abuse.
Wittmeyer found that the files were not confidential and that the Scouts’ policy of confidentiality was just an internal policy that had no legal standing.