What The Boy Scouts Bankruptcy Filing Means For Pending Lawsuits

Feb 18, 2020
Originally published on February 18, 2020 6:53 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy. This comes as membership has declined and as lawsuits against the organization have grown. A warning that this conversation may disturb some listeners because the lawsuits concern sexual abuse.

Gilion Dumas is an attorney in Portland, Ore., and she has more than a dozen lawsuits pending against the Scouts on behalf of people who say they were abused.

Welcome to the program.

GILION DUMAS: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What does this bankruptcy filing mean for pending lawsuits like yours?

DUMAS: Well, for my clients who already have their cases filed, it's going to be pretty disruptive, especially, for example, we've got one of our clients - he's in Oregon, and we have a jury coming in this Friday. We're supposed to start picking the jury in his case.

SHAPIRO: Oh.

DUMAS: He's been litigating his claim for two years and, all of a sudden, looks like that's going to come to a screeching halt.

SHAPIRO: And then what happens? They just get in line with all of the other people who have claims and hope that a bankruptcy court resolves it.

DUMAS: Right. He doesn't get to tell his story. The history of abuse in Scouts won't come out. All of a sudden, focus switches to talking about, what are Boy Scouts' assets? And how does insurance come into play? And that's not really what this story is about. It's about the Boy Scouts' failure to protect children from a known danger of child abuse.

SHAPIRO: The organization's CEO put out a statement that apologizes to victims of abuse. And also, it says, quote, "the BSA - Boy Scouts of America - firmly believes that a proposed Victims Compensation Trust structure is the best means of compensating victims in a way that is equitable and protects their identities" - sounds like you disagree with that.

DUMAS: Well, first of all, the Boy Scouts always apologizes that something bad happened to kids. The Boy Scouts never takes responsibility for what they did to fail to protect children. They've never come out and said that they apologize for not having policies or protective procedures in place that would have prevented these children from being abused in the first place, especially given the decades of reports on child abuse and child molestation, the ineligible volunteer files that the Boy Scouts kept from the beginning of the organization. So the apology doesn't really ring true to me or the survivors that we represent.

SHAPIRO: Do all of your clients feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them by this? Or are some of them happy that the bankruptcy filing could give them a different avenue to pursue a claim?

DUMAS: The clients who have already filed their lawsuits and who are well along the way and have already litigated their claims - they're the ones who are the most frustrated. But those who just filed their lawsuits or maybe who haven't filed their lawsuits yet - they're in a different position. They see that maybe this is a good opportunity for them to avoid the stress of litigating and to avoid the rigmarole involved in going through a long lawsuit. So it is possible that bankruptcy could be good for some of those people or some of the people who are just starting out with a claim.

SHAPIRO: I understand that some chapters of the Boy Scouts still have plenty of money that won't be affected by the bankruptcy filing. Are any of these abuse lawsuits likely to affect those local chapters?

DUMAS: That's the big question because it seems that BSA national wants its local councils to get the benefits of the efficient process of having to mediate all the claims to a settlement, but they also want to protect all of the assets of the local councils, all of that real estate that the local councils own. And I think that's greatly unfair to the victims who were sexually abused in Scouts. You can't have it both ways. If you're going to let the victims get full justice and full accountability and be compensated, especially for any wrongdoings that the council was responsible for, you have to put all of those assets into the bankruptcy pool. You can't get the benefits of the bankruptcy without also ponying up to the bankruptcy fund.

SHAPIRO: Attorney Gilion Dumas speaking with us about the Boy Scouts' bankruptcy filing.

Thank you very much.

DUMAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.