PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday approved the release of 20,000 pages of so-called perversion files compiled by the Boy Scouts of America on suspected child molesters within the organization for more than 20 years, giving the public its first chance to review the records.
The files, gathered from 1965 to 1985, came to light when they were used as evidence in a landmark Oregon lawsuit in 2010. A jury awarded a record $18.5 million to a man who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the early 1980s, ruling that the Scouts failed to protect him.
The case drew attention to the organization's efforts to keep child molesters out of its leadership ranks. The files contain accusations against Scout leaders ranging from child abuse to lesser offenses that would prohibit them from working in the Scouts.
The organization, headquartered in Irving, Texas, say the files have succeeded in keeping molesters out of the Scouts. The group fought to keep the files sealed in the Oregon case, but a judge ruled that since they became public record when they were used at trial, prompting the organization to appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The Scouts argued opening the files could affect those who were suspected but never convicted of abuse. The organization also said that if the information were to go public, it could prejudice potential jurors in future trials.
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, The Oregonian, The New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW-TV, and Courthouse News Service had challenged the Scouts' effort to keep the files under seal.
After the ruling Thursday, the organization said in a statement that the "Scouts are safer because those files exist."
"While we respect the court, we are still concerned that the release of two decades' worth of confidential files into public view, even with the redactions indicated, may still negatively impact victims' privacy and have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse," the Scouts said.
The 20,000 pages -- representing files on 1,200 people -- are part of a larger trove of confidential documents the Boy Scouts began compiling decades ago. The New York Times reported the Scouts had 2,910 "cards" on men who were unfit to supervise boys by 1935.
Scout executives had no written guidelines on the subject until 1972, when a memo urged them to keep such files confidential "because of misunderstandings which could develop if it were widely distributed."
A Multnomah County judge earlier ruled that the names of alleged victims and the people who made the accusations should be kept private. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed, saying that such redactions would "prevent undue injury and embarrassment to innocent persons that likely would result from public disclosure of the names in the exhibits."
It was unclear when the files would be made public, since the names will need to be redacted by hand by attorneys from either side and sent for approval. A timeline for those meetings and the redactions has yet to be set. Attorneys in about 30 other cases nationwide also were seeking the contents of the files.
Paul Mones, one of the plaintiff's attorneys in the underlying case, said the files reveal "poignant and disturbing" details.
"These files were integral to the jury finding that the BSA failed to use its vast knowledge of sexual predators to protect its Scouts," Mones said. "Though the BSA has improved its youth protection policies in recent years, the tragic legacy of the abuse of untold numbers of boys remains."
The state Supreme Court was cautious in limiting the scope of its opinion, noting that allowing the media and public to review trial exhibits may not be the correct decision in every case.
An attorney for the media companies, Charles Hinkle, said he was disappointed that the court's ruling "does not guarantee that the public has a right to see the evidence that a jury sees when it decides a case."
Hinkle said that could discourage live testimony in favor of written or video testimony, reducing the public's opportunity to know the facts on which a decision is based.
The Scouts have faced numerous lawsuits by men who say they were molested as children by Scout leaders, including the case that resulted in the landmark ruling. In that lawsuit, an Oregon jury awarded $18.5 million -- the largest payment awarded in a sex abuse case involving the Scouts -- to Kerry Lewis, the victim of sex abuse by a former assistant scoutmaster in Portland.
The jury decided the Boy Scouts were negligent for allowing former assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes to associate with Scouts, including Lewis, after Dykes admitted to a Scouts official in 1983 that he had molested 17 boys, according to court records. Lewis' attorneys argued that the Scouts should have opened the perversion files decades ago.
During that case, the state Supreme Court allowed the jury to look at about 1,000 of the files.