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Irwin Zalkin

How Does the Boy Scouts Bankruptcy Impact the Claims of Survivors of Abuse?

Irwin Zalkin Answers Questions From the Media About the Boy Scouts Bankruptcy

On Tuesday, February 18, 2020, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), a Congressionally Chartered youth-serving organization incorporated in 1910, filed for federal bankruptcy protection with the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Delaware in response to potentially thousands of lawsuits around the country stemming from decades of known child sexual abuse within the scouting organization.  According to Irwin Zalkin, a leading attorney for abuse victims, the bankruptcy filing raises several issues and questions for victims who were sexually abused as Boy Scouts.

On Wednesday, Irwin Zalkin, of The Zalkin Law Firm held a news conference to answer questions that victims of Boy Scout sexual abuse may have about the implications of the bankruptcy filing on their ability to seek justice through a civil claim. Zalkin was joined by one of his clients, Michael Hernandez, who was allegedly abused as a Boy Scout while in an Orange County Troop when he was 12 years old in 1973. His sexual abuse came from his Scoutmaster during Troop excursions to the Merced River. Mr. Hernandez will be the Plaintiff in a lawsuit soon to be filed against the local Boy Scout council and the BSA under AB 218.

“To those of us who are involved in litigation with the BSA and its local councils on behalf of survivors of child sexual abuse, the BSA bankruptcy filing comes as no surprise,” said Zalkin. “The BSA bankruptcy give us a new structure for cases already filed but it will have the greatest impact on victims who have yet to file civil claims to seek justice for their abuse.”

According to Zalkin, the bankruptcy filing will benefit the BSA because it will automatically stop all lawsuits dead in their tracks. Another advantage for the BSA is that the bankruptcy preempts state law and allows the BSA to ask the bankruptcy judge to issue a “bar” date for filing of new claims against the BSA that is much shorter than various state statutes of limitations including the new 3-year window under AB 218 enacted last year in California and the window for filing under new laws in New York and other states.  This means that Boy Scout child sex abuse victims in California may not be able to take full advantage of the 3-year window to file a lawsuit against the BSA. 

Victims will, however, benefit from the fact that under a bankruptcy proceeding, the BSA will have to be completely transparent about its assets, including available insurance coverage.  Child abuse victims and their lawyers will have an opportunity to evaluate the assets of the BSA and its ability to pay for the harm it has caused young boys.

Mr. Hernandez attended the news conference to serve as a voice for the thousands of young boys who were sexually abused in scouting over decades. “The abuse I suffered as a young Boy Scout has haunted me for decades,” said Hernandez. “I repressed those memories but they made me angry at myself and others throughout my life. I am relieved that I can now finally come forward and seek some justice for what I suffered and I am hopeful that this bankruptcy doesn’t take that away from me and other victims.”

According to Zalkin, one of the key issues that will be before the bankruptcy judge will be to determine the status of BSA assets at the local councils and troop sponsoring organizations.   According to the BSA by-laws and organizational structure, the BSA operates through local councils that have various districts within the councils.  The troops operate within a district and are usually sponsored by a “charter” organization such as a Mormon congregation, a local Lions Club or school.  Historically in response to lawsuits for child sexual abuse, the BSA typically tries to distance itself from the local councils claiming it has no control over the hiring and supervisory process of adult scout volunteers, which it claims is handled by the sponsoring organization and local councils. 

Based on this argument, the BSA National has stated that it cannot be responsible for predator scout leaders and the sexual abuse of young boys within its organization.  According to Zalkin, that argument is rebutted by the BSA’s own documents and organizational structure which impose directives on local councils and approves the ultimate acceptance of scout leaders and sponsoring organization charters.  Zalkin points out that BSA National also exercises many other controls over the local councils including who can be a scout, what is allowed as a uniform, and the programs that are offered.  

“Based on evidence presented in several lawsuits against the BSA, it is clear that the national organization controls the operations and the assets of local councils,” said Zalkin.  “Those extensive assets should be included in the bankruptcy proceeding so that they are available to compensate the thousands of victims who were severely harmed by the childhood sexual abuse that was so prevalent in scouting for decades.”

Since the 1920s, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has kicked out thousands of adult volunteers because they were accused of sexually assaulting children. BSA did not notify Scout families or the local communities about these dangerous predators. They did however keep track of the men removed from scouting by putting their names on an “Ineligible Volunteer List” and opening an “Ineligible Volunteer File” on each man. For decades, BSA categorized the “IV Files” on men removed from BSA for sexually abusing children as the “Perversion Files”. The files they have released publicly date from the 1950’s up to 1991.  There is still an unknown number of files, perhaps hundreds more, from 1991 to the present that the Boy Scouts have not made public.

The Zalkin Law Firm has already filed 14 lawsuits on behalf of Boy Scout sexual abuse victims and expects to file several more in the coming weeks under the new statute of limitations window in California.  Those lawsuits are among the hundreds of lawsuits that will be filed in California alone under AB 218 provisions. 

Irwin Zalkin has had extensive experience representing victims of sexual abuse whose abusers sought protection with a bankruptcy filing. In 2007, Zalkin was appointed a lead negotiator by United States Magistrate Judge Leo S. Papas on behalf of over 144 victims of childhood sexual abuse against the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego during the bankruptcy proceedings for the Diocese. Those negotiations resulted in a global settlement of almost $200,000,000 for victims. He also was one of the lead trial lawyers and part of the trial team against the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, which also sought bankruptcy protections, where a global settlement was reached in the amount of $660,000,000.

Zalkin advises that victims of Boy Scout Sexual abuse seek legal counsel as soon as possible to explore their options under their state’s statute of limitations laws and the implications of the BSA bankruptcy filing.