An important decision announced yesterday by the Oregon Supreme Court bolsters both the principle of openness in our court system and the idea that a key function of the courts is to enforce accountability.
According to the New York Times a unanimous ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court “cleared the way… for the release of thousands of pages of documents detailing accusations and investigations of sexual abuse or other improprieties by Boy Scout leaders around the nation from the mid-1960s into the 1980s.” The documents, which the Scouts’ leadership referred to as “the perversion files” were the keystone of the 2010 sexual abuse case that focused national attention on the organization. The organization was fined over $18 million because of its efforts to cover up the abuse of young boys rather than reporting it to authorities.
It is sad to see that even now the Scouts seem more concerned about protecting their organizational reputation than they are about the many injuries to children enabled by their decades-long conduct. As described by the Times, the files “were kept as a way of weeding out bad leaders and preventing abuse” but proved to be especially damaging to the organization because they offered proof that the Scouts’ leadership knew of cases of sexual abuse but did nothing to bring the guilty adults to justice.
Many Oregonians are well aware of the sordid details of the case from the months when it dominated our state’s headlines. It is sad that having long denied that the organization had a problem which needed to be fixed the Scouts, even now, were fighting to prevent evidence of their conduct from reaching the public (according to the Times the version of the files released to the public will have the names of victims redacted). In a statement released yesterday the Scouts’ refer to the documents as “confidential files.” The court, however, took the view that the principle that justice must be administered openly took precedence over the Boy Scouts’ desire to preserve the organization’s reputation.
Any sort of an injury to a child, whether here in Oregon or elsewhere, is a serious matter. Accountability for inexcusable conduct does not begin and end with the payment of a fine or punitive damages. The court has taken the responsible step of protecting the privacy of victims, even as it takes the equally responsible step of ensuring that an organization which violated the trust placed in it by so many parents cannot hide behind claims of “confidentiality” to sweep its conduct – and punishment – away from public view.