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Boy Scouts' Sex Abuse Penalty: $18.5 Million For Abused Scout

WILLIAM McCALL   04/24/10 12:33 AM ET   AP

PORTLAND, Ore. — A jury on Friday ordered the Boy Scouts of America to pay $18.5 million to a man sexually abused by a former assistant Scoutmaster in what is believed to be the largest such award against the national organization.

Lawyers for Kerry Lewis had asked the jury to award at least $25 million to punish the Boy Scouts for what the jury had already agreed in the first phase of the trial was reckless and outrageous conduct.

They also noted the Boy Scouts had never apologized to Lewis, who said Friday at a news conference that the verdict shows that "big corporations can't be above the law."

Lewis added that an apology "would mean something to me, but I'm not expecting it."

The jury decided on April 13 that the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with Scouts, including Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys.

The jury awarded Lewis $1.4 million in compensatory damages with that verdict and agreed the Boy Scouts were liable for punitive damages to be determined in the second phase of the trial that ended Thursday.

Scouts officials declined to comment on details of the case because other cases are pending, but issued a statement saying it maintains a "rigorous" system to screen Scout leaders.

"The Boy Scouts of America has always stood against child abuse of any kind," it said.

The verdict came as the Boy Scouts, a congressionally chartered organization, mark their centennial.

The case was the first of six filed against the Boy Scouts in the same court in Oregon, with at least one other separate case pending. If mediation fails to settle the next cases, they also could go to trial.

The amount of the damages surprised Patrick Boyle, editor of the Youth Today newspaper and author of a book about sex abuse within the Scouts.

"That's a lot of money. This is by far the biggest award against the Scouts for sex abuse, probably by several times," Boyle said.

The award is also significant, he said, because it is only against the national Boy Scouts organization and is not divided among any of its local councils or other defendants.

Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, the attorneys for Lewis, told the jury the Boy Scouts were nearly a $1 billion corporation that could well afford punitive damages intended to deter them from similar conduct in the future.

Clark and Mones said Friday after the verdict that publicity about the case also could act as a deterrent.

"They've always settled. And they're silent. No one hears because it does not see the light of day," Mones said. "What we saw here in Portland really pulled back the covers on the Boy Scouts of America, and what it did to cover up."

During the first phase of the trial, Clark and Mones introduced more than 1,000 files the Scouts kept on suspected child molesters from 1965-85 as evidence the organization should have put a sex abuse prevention program into place decades ago.

The Scouts executive now in charge of those files admitted they had never been evaluated or analyzed to help design or determine the effectiveness of a prevention program that is now in place.

"If we're talking about a 90-year practice, that is phenomenally damning," said Steven Green, a Willamette University law professor who also holds a doctorate in U.S. constitutional history.

Green said knowledge about a problem and the awareness the problem could continue to result in some type of injury are "at the heart" of any punitive damages case.

"The fact they had these files indicating sexual abuse was going on undermines any argument they had their own standards that were sufficient at the time," he said.

A number of witnesses testified for the Scouts during the second phase of the trial that they participated in a training and prevention program since at least the late 1980s. None could say why the Scouts had not yet made the "youth protection training" program mandatory.

Under Oregon law, 60 percent of the punitive damages awarded by the jury will go to the state crime victim compensation fund.

Because the Boy Scouts have settled some lawsuits out of court, it is difficult to say where the total awards imposed by the Portland jury rank with those of the past.

In a 1987 sex abuse case, an Oregon jury awarded more than $4 million to the victim, including $2 million in punitive damages against the Scouts that were thrown out when the case was appealed. A jury in San Bernardino, Calif., awarded $3.75 million to three sex abuse victims in 1991.

Boyle said from 1984 through 1992, the Scouts were sued at least 60 times for alleged sex abuse with settlements and judgments totaling more than $16 million.

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Associated Press writers Tim Fought and Abby Haight in Portland contributed to this report.

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