Boy Scouts offers many opportunities to grow and mature in an environment that is healthy, instructive, and useful. I was one of them. As Eagle Scouts, my brother and I were proud members of Boy Scout Troop 223 in Southern California which helped more than 800 boys obtain Scouts’ highest rank of Eagle and learn how to place the values, skills, and knowledge we gained in Scouting to practical use in our daily lives.
Like many former Boy Scouts, we carried on these traditions by serving on local Scout councils in the hopes of helping boys strive to meet their potential. To those of us imbued with the ideals of Scouting, the word that the Boy Scouts of America, (BSA) had filed for bankruptcy in February of 2020 was more than discouraging. The reason for their bankruptcy was even more so. The Scouts acknowledged legitimate claims of sexual abuse by a few volunteer Scout leaders and had been working with their insurers to settle them. Recently, the BSA and their insurers asked Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein to allow “discovery” into the techniques used by the plaintiffs’ lawyers who managed to boost the number of claims from 275 to 95,000 in just a few months. Sixty percent of these claims were filed only a few days before the November 16, 2020 deadline set by the courts.
While one cannot object to those seeking some recompense from legitimate claims of sexual abuse, the fact that the claims increased 55-fold in a few months raises many questions. Most of these complaints were filed by a third-party broker, the Coalition for Abused Scouts for Justice, which undertook a massive online marketing campaign for a percentage of the eventual award according to the Wall Street Journal. The campaign included “thousands of television, radio and internet ads riddled with falsehoods” according to lawyers for the Scouts and their insurers. The ads indicated that the plaintiffs could file their claims anonymously, and that they would not have to appear in court.
A preliminary investigation of the new claims found that 11,676 appear to be duplicates and that 7,000 do not identify the supposed perpetrator. Thousands more of the complaints were only signed by lawyers and not the alleged plaintiffs. Further, a preliminary review, found that many of the claimants had been convicted of tax fraud, forgery, identity theft, and previous false insurance claims as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Attorney: Boy Scout plan “woefully inadequate”
An attorney representing over a thousand former Scouts calls the bankruptcy reorganization plan submitted by The Boy Scouts of America this week “woefully inadequate.” Michael Pfau said the plan “is short on facts and frankly, short on money.” (March 2)
The Coalition for Abused Scouts for Justice is not dissimilar from other organizations established in the wake of civil suits. They “fan out” to identify claimants to join in class action or mass tort lawsuits against deep pocketed defendants. They then receive a percentage of the resulting award. In large tort cases such as the Boy Scouts, the process of harvesting claims is often financed by litigation funding provided by private equity firms who take a share of the attorneys’ fees. This approach has been used against a variety of products such as weedkillers, opioids, and children’s products found to have real adverse consumer effects. However, the Boy Scout case is the first based on claims of abuse by volunteers of a non-profit organization. Also, local Boy Scout troops must be sponsored by a chartering organization such as a church. Many of them also are potentially liable.
It is not only reasonable, but also responsible for Judge Selber Silverstein to allow for discovery to root out possible fraudulent claims used by firms and individuals who were able to quickly “find” so many potential clients against the Scouts. The number who had “joined” the accusers strains the credulity of millions of youths who have benefited greatly from Scouts. Also, the public should be aware of the techniques used by firms who fish for clients thereby diluting the funds available for true victims. These steps will then enable the Boy Scouts to do the honorable thing by accepting culpability where appropriate and to continue the important work of serving America’s youth that the Boy Scouts of America have carried on for 111 years.
Michael A. MacDowell is President Emeritus of Misericordia University. He lives in Estero, FL.