PORTLAND - A $1.4 million jury award to an Oregon man who filed a sex abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts has become an unwelcome reminder that an American institution based on trustworthiness has to account for past problems.
And there could be more financial damage to come, with jurors set to go back to court next week to decide whether the Scouts must pay up to $25 million in punitive damages.
The verdict delivered Tuesday by a Portland jury was based partly on the introduction as evidence of more than 1,000 so-called "perversion files" secretly kept by the Boy Scouts of America at the group's national headquarters from 1965 to mid-1984.
The Boy Scouts already plans to appeal and argue that those files are outdated and do not reflect current prevention efforts or even past policy.
"The safety of the young people currently in the Scouting program has never been in question during these legal proceedings," said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Scouts at their national headquarters in Irving, Texas.
Patrick Boyle, editor of the Youth Today newspaper and author of a book about sex abuse within the Scouts, said the damages so far are not a huge financial hit for the organization.
But it reminds people about the problems the Scouts have had with abusers among their leaders and volunteers in the past - and that secret files have been kept to identify them.
"The bigger hit is the potential damage to their image," said Boyle. "This case has gotten more national attention because of the files."
According to Boyle and trial testimony, the practice of keeping secret files on Scoutmasters and volunteers dates back to shortly after the Scouts were founded in 1910.
The documents were first revealed in 1935 when The New York Times reported a speech by James West, the first chief scout executive, who said the Boy Scouts kept a "red flag list" of leaders who had been removed for various causes.
The files were later nicknamed "perversion files" but were mostly forgotten and eventually labeled "ineligible volunteer" or "IV" files, held under lock and key at headquarters.
Lawyers for the Scouts argued the files helped weed out suspected child molesters.
But the attorneys for Kerry Lewis, the man who filed the lawsuit, argued that keeping them secret meant that parents, children and volunteers were not warned about the risk of sexual abuse.