Mediation talks set for case against Boy Scouts

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A judge has entered several orders that could move a local case against the Boy Scouts of America forward to trial in November.

The case was filed by six women who were sexually assaulted in the Flathead Valley while participating in a co-ed Boy Scout program in the 1970s. The women claim the Boy Scouts were negligent in their duties to properly select, train and supervise adult scout volunteers.

Attorneys will discuss how they might settle the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts organization during pre-trial mediation talks Thursday in Cascade County District Court. The trial is scheduled to be heard Nov. 27 in Montana’s 8th Judicial District in Great Falls.

The District Court judge’s order affirmed the Boy Scouts had a duty to take precautions to reduce the risk of harm caused to women.

“As a matter of law, [The Boy Scouts of America] owed a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiffs... to take reasonable precautions to protect them from foreseeable risks, including sexual assault,” Judge Jeffrey Sherlock stated in his summary judgment.

The women were reportedly between the ages of 11 and 14 when they were sexually molested and abused by the late William Leininger Jr., a scout volunteer and leader of the co-ed Explorer Post in Kalispell. The abuse happened while Leininger was supervising the girls on scout camping trips, during first-aid training as part of the scout program, or on overnight trips Leininger took related to scout activities.

Leininger was convicted of rape in 1976, and again in 1982 in an unrelated case. He died in 2002 while in state custody.

The case against the Boy Scouts of America and the Montana Council of the Boy Scouts was filed in 2011 by the local victims of sexual abuse in the co-ed Explorer Post.

Montana law allows people to bring claims many years, even decades, after the abuse happened because it recognizes that victims of sex abuse may not make the connection about the effects the abuse has had on their lives until much time has passed, the plaintiffs’ attorney Gilion Dumas said.

This allows claims both against the perpetrator and the organization the perpetrator was involved with, she said.

The summary judgment allows the plaintiffs to move forward with their claims for fraud and punitive damages against the Boy Scouts.

A key ruling in the pre-trial motions involves the use of the Boy Scouts’ “ineligible volunteers files” as evidence in the case. The judge denied a motion by the Boy Scouts to exclude these files, also known as the perversion files, from being used as evidence.

Dumas said the files show a history of sexual abuse of children existed in scouting at the time the girls were abused.

“The [ineligible volunteers files] gave knowledge to the Boy Scouts about how child molesters had targeted the organization to gain access to children and abuse them,” Dumas said.

In 2010, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Boy Scouts to release about 12,500 ineligible volunteer files gathered from 1965 to 1985.

The plaintiffs’ fraud claim is the first made against the Boy Scouts that could go to jury, Dumas said.

The fraud complaint claims the Boy Scouts were operating under the premise their leaders “met proper moral standards” and participants were being placed under proper supervision, Dumas said. The plaintiffs allege the organization was negligent in following their own policies and procedures and ignored the risk of sexual assault they knew existed in the ineligible volunteers files.

Earlier this month the Boy Scouts announced a decision to expand its Cub Scout program to girls. The organization also plans to create a program for older girls to get to the rank of Eagle Scout. The Boy Scouts of America states its aim is to provide programs for young people that build character, train them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship and develop personal fitness.

Reporter Breeana Laughlin can be reached at 758-4441 or blaughlin@dailyinterlake.com.

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