Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ore. judge raises potential damages in Scouts case

Last updated March 30, 2010 8:49 p.m. PT

Ore. judge raises potential damages in Scouts case

PORTLAND, Ore. -- An Oregon judge on Tuesday more than doubled the punitive damages the Boy Scouts of America could face if the organization loses a lawsuit filed by a man who was molested by a Scout leader in the early 1980s.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge John Wittmayer agreed Tuesday to the plaintiff's request to increase possible punitive damages to $25 million from $10 million, and the total damages sought in the lawsuit to $29 million.

The ruling came in the third week of the trial, which is expected to last another 10 days. The defense began presenting its case Tuesday.

Plaintiff lawyers Kelly Clark and Paul Mones sought the increase after reading through confidential Boy Scout files documenting sex abuse allegations involving adult volunteers from 1965-1984.

The Boy Scouts only made the files available two weeks before trial began, so Clark and Mones filed their motion once they'd had a chance to assess the depth and scope of the more than 1,000 documents, dubbed the "perversion files" by the Boy Scouts.

Under Oregon law, 60 percent of punitive damages go to the state's Crime Victims Fund.

Wittmayer said he wasn't happy about approving the increase after the trial was under way, but said the Boy Scouts had been too slow in providing the files.

The trial has drawn national attention because it is one of the first to use the secret files.

The lawsuit was brought by a 37-year-old Klamath Falls, Ore., man who was abused by an assistant Scoutmaster, Timur Dykes, in 1984. In a video deposition played for jurors, Dykes has acknowledged abusing the plaintiff. Dykes was convicted three times between 1983 and 1994 of sexually abusing other boys, mostly Scouts.

The Associated Press does not identify sexual assault victims as a matter of policy.

The plaintiff's lawyers contend the confidential files show a pattern among Boy Scouts leadership of ignoring suspected abuse or allowing pedophiles to return to scouting activities.

Grant Robinson, a retired Boy Scouts of America executive, testified Tuesday that the organization moved quickly to remove suspected molesters from volunteer positions. Sponsor groups were told that a removed volunteer couldn't continue to participate in Scout activities, he said.

"From the time I was hired, we were informed there was the potential of pedophiles coming into our organization," he said. "We were very sensitive to the issue."

Attorneys for the Boy Scouts say the secret documents protected children by helping national scouting leaders weed out sex offenders.

Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith has said the organization cannot comment on the details of the case, but has worked hard on awareness and prevention efforts, including background checks.

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