Artwork by Sparrow v. Swallow

TWENTY THOUSAND PAGES of files documenting decades of sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America sit right now in a dozen cardboard boxes in a law office under the Fremont Bridge. Journalists can see the boxes. They can touch the boxes. But the information within the files, which were used in a landmark case against the local and national Scouts earlier this year, is sealed under court order. A Multnomah County court judge is deciding this week whether the Boy Scouts' decades of secrets should remain secret.

Attorneys Kelly Clark and Paul Mones won a groundbreaking sex abuse case against the Boy Scouts of America last month when a jury awarded their client, Kerry Lewis, nearly $20 million in punitive and emotional damages for abuse he endured two decades ago as a young Boy Scout. Lewis' case is the first of five the local attorneys are prosecuting in Oregon, all revolving around Scout leader Timur Dykes, who was allowed near the Scouts during the 1980s even after he confessed to a Boy Scout official that he had molested the children ["Scout's Honor," In the Shadows, News, May 13].

But that win was only the beginning of the battle. The legal team was back in court this week to convince Judge John Wittmayer that 1,247 Boy Scout files used in the case should be released to the public.

The Boy Scouts keeps track of alleged abusers like Dykes in what the group calls the "perversion files." The files are the Scouts' system for banning dangerous volunteers.

While most of the evidence used in the Lewis case was entered into the public record, Judge Wittmayer placed the files under a protective order at the request of the Scouts. Major media groups including the Oregonian, New York Times, and Associated Press have signed on to support the case, which has evolved into a debate about the definition of open courts.

"The Boy Scouts of America does not get, after all these years, that healing does not start until all the secrets are out. Break the secrets! Be done with it! The Boy Scouts are asking you to put these files back in a locked cabinet," said Clark in court on the morning of Monday, June 14, his voice fiery. "All this in a state where the constitution says we have open courts!"

Under Oregon law, the public and media are allowed open access to trials. But there is no previous case exactly matching the issues at stake in the Boy Scout trial, meaning Judge Wittmayer's decision this week could set a major precedent for what happens to sensitive evidence used in a trial.

Lawyers for the Boy Scouts argued in court on Monday that no one beyond the attorneys involved in the trial needs access to the perversion files. Having the files printed in every paper in town could bias future juries, argued attorney Rob Aldisert, of high-powered Portland firm Perkins Coie.

"A piece of evidence is not public property, the evidence is private property, it belongs to the owner," said Aldisert, who also asserted that releasing the files would undermine the Scouts' confidential system designed to prevent abuse.

"These files have been confidential for as long as anyone can remember," said Aldisert.

But obviously, the system failed in the case of Dykes.

Journalist Patrick Boyle, author of a book about sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts and editor of the newspaper Youth Today, got the chance to look through thousands of perversion files released after Scout sex abuse trials in other states. In one set, the names and places involving abuse were redacted. In another, the judge left them open. Boyle says the vast majority of the files relate to adult Scout leaders sexually abusing Scouts.

"This case is sadly typical," says Boyle. "The Timur Dykes case has a lot of common elements as a lot of these cases, the most important one being that someone knew about the abuse and didn't take action."