Boy Scout sex-scandal ruling cites Supreme Court

National Constitution Center

An Oregon court has cited a Watergate-era ruling in allowing the release of files detailing alleged child abuse by Boy Scouts of America volunteers dating back to 1965.

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The case involved attorneys for the Boy Scouts and six media outlets, about evidence from a 2010 lawsuit, and it comes at a time when high-profile sex-abuse trials involving former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are making national headlines.

On Thursday, the Oregon Supreme Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Nixon v. Warner Communications as a key factor in letting a trial judge decide how the 20,000 pages of abuse evidence should be made public.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Nixon v. Warner Communications that media outlets couldn’t have physical access to 22 tapes from a Watergate obstruction trial, after a judge barred their release.

“The decision whether to permit access is best left to the sound discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1978.

The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in 1978 that the tapes’ release wasn’t required under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press and the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a public trial.

In 2010, an Oregon jury awarded a man more than $19.4 million for sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a scoutmaster.

The cache of 1,247 files called the “perversion files” in the media and “ineligible volunteer files” by the Boy Scouts was admitted as evidence in the 2010 Oregon trial after a prolonged legal battle.

The files detail alleged abuse between 1965 and 1985 by scoutmasters, and attorneys for the plaintiff in the 2010 case said other records indicated the Boy Scouts started such files as far back as 1919.

In the Oregon Supreme Court case, the media wanted access to all the unedited files, while the Boy Scouts wanted the files kept out of the public domain because of concerns about influencing the jury pool in future abuse trials.

Instead, Multnomah County Judge John Wittmayer ordered the release of the files with the names of people redacted, or hidden from public view. Attorneys from both sides will now meet to agree on the edits before the files are released.

One attorney told the Courthouse News Service the decision would hurt the Boy Scouts‘ efforts to keep the files out of cases in other states.

With the public attention given to the Sandusky and priest trials, there have been more calls for extensive evidence in such cases to be publicly released.

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