Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Santa Barbara Boy Scouts Sex Abuse Trial Reveals Secret "Perversion" Files

boy scouts, sexual abuse claims, California
Trial began this week in Santa Barbara, CA on a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by a former boy scout.  There were extensive pre-trial motions filed to either admit or exclude from evidence so-called "perversion files".  These are records alleged by the plaintiff to show tens of thousands of prior complaints of sexual abuse by Boy Scout leaders dating back to the 1920s.  The attorneys for the Boy Scouts of America contend that the number is closer to 7,500.

Holding an entity like the Scouts liable for criminal wrongdoing committed by one of their leaders based upon a theory of negligent supervision of the scout leader may require knowledge of prior complaints of sexual abuse.  The trial strategy for the plaintiff in this case appears to be to show a pattern or history of sexual abuse allegations and a failure by the scouts as an organization to address these issues and do everything they can to prevent future incidents.  This is similar to strategies employed in sex abuse trials involving organizations like the Catholic Church.

Whether this type of evidence should be heard by the jury implicates any number of provisions of the California Code of Evidence.  These include the limitations on so-called "character evidence" to prove specific conduct, claims of attorney client privilege or work product related to prior investigations of sexual abuse allegations, privacy issues regarding the prior, alleged victims, hearsay and other exclusions and exceptions.  The judge in this case has ruled, however, that the right of the plaintiff to present evidence of prior notice to the Scouts of same or similar incidents outweighs these objections to the admission of the evidence.  If the plaintiff is able to prevail on his claims in this case with a substantial jury verdict, the admission of these records may be the subject of an appeal by the defense at which time an appellate judge or judges would review the decision and determine if the judge abused any "discretion" in allowing the jury to hear the evidence.