A small paperweight sits on attorney Terry White’s desk in Evansville, reminding him of an organization and motto that’s been a central part of his life since childhood.
No matter the issue he faces in the legal world or in his personal life, he knows that he can always find guidance in the phrase close to his heart.
“Once an Eagle, always an Eagle,” the veteran attorney at Olsen White & Hambidge says, referring to the Boy Scouts of America and the Eagle Scout rank he earned.
The Southern Indiana lawyer who’s been practicing for more than three decades said he hasn’t stopped holding his head up proudly about the organization, despite recent headlines that tell of Scout leaders in other states sexually abusing children and a new multi-million-dollar verdict in an Oregon case.
A jury in late April found the Boy Scouts of America liable for the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy more than 25 years ago, smacking the national organization with an $18.5 million punitive damages award on top of the initial $1.4 million verdict earlier in the month. The jury found that the Texas-based organization failed to protect the now-38-year-old Portland man by not removing the Scout leader despite his past conviction as a sex offender. He is among six men suing the Boy Scouts over allegations of sexual abuse.
During the trial, attorneys produced documents that were said to be part of an archive of previously secret Boy Scout files that chronicles decades of abuse.
Under Oregon law, 60 percent of a punitive damages award goes to the state’s crime victims’ fund – set up much like the system in Indiana. The Boy Scouts must pay $840,000 while the region’s Cascade Pacific Council must pay 15 percent, or $210,000. A church that had sponsored the troop the plaintiff belonged to had previously settled and paid the 25 percent amount of $350,000.
The Boy Scouts organization has said it didn’t know about the Scout leader’s record, and once leaders did learn of it they acted immediately and cooperated with police, attorneys have said. A written statement from the Boy Scouts in early April said the group intended to file an appeal of the verdict.
The organization said the safety of kids currently in the programs hasn’t been a question in the Oregon proceedings; only about what society and the group knew about child abuse three decades ago.
“We are gravely disappointed with the verdict. We believe that the allegations made against our youth protection efforts are not valid,” the statement said. “We are saddened by what happened to the plaintiff. The actions of the man who committed these crimes do not represent the values and ideas of the Boy Scouts of America.”
On the national level, legal experts speculate that the Oregon verdict could spark a floodgate of litigation on abuse claims – similar to what the Catholic Church has faced involving accusations of priest abuse. But in Indiana, attorneys and judges who have been involved in Scouting for most of their lives say they aren’t focused on what happened in Oregon. They remain upbeat about the Boy Scouts of America here in Indiana and nationally.
“This doesn’t cloud what we’re doing,” said Indianapolis attorney Steven Pockrass of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, who is an Eagle Scout and volunteers with the Crossroads of America Council for the Boy Scouts. “Talk about the verdict here hasn’t come up on my radar, and I think that what the public is thinking about now are those values and attributes that the organization has embraced throughout our Scouting life.”
Though unconnected with the case, Indianapolis plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Chamberlain said this verdict served its purpose. He doesn’t know of any connection or litigation here in the state, but he said he hopes that everyone with the organization will take note of what happened in Oregon.
“The system is designed to address past harms and also prevent future harms, and there’s no reason to second guess the verdict here,” he said. “As an organization, you hope they learn and are cognizant of what’s happening around them, especially when you see a large verdict like this. All organizations that deal with the most vulnerable people in our society will learn from these large verdicts and have to address those issues.”
LewisWagner attorney John Trimble, who has worked on the defense side for churches, camps, and day-care centers through the years, said he’s seen cases like this involving sexual abuse, and he’s defended the insurance-coverage aspects. Most have been putting safeguards and procedures in place for at least the past decade to prevent these actions but also defend themselves in litigation.
“Every time there’s a verdict anywhere in the country against an organization that deals with the supervision of children, all local organizations that deal with children have to be concerned,” he said. “No question this is on the front burner. Each time we see a verdict, we’re reminded of the necessity of safeguarding children and having those procedures in place.”
The Oregon verdict comes at an otherwise celebratory and historic time for Boy Scouts of America, which is marking its 100th anniversary in 2010 at the national level and within Indiana is seeing an expansive and massive fundraising and membership campaign.
The Crossroads of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America launched the public phase of a $16 million campaign last year, aimed at enhancing and expanding the reach of Scouting throughout central Indiana. That helped pave the way for a new $5.5 million state-of-the-art facility on the northeast side of Indianapolis, which opened recently to provide education and support for thousands of volunteers and Scouts.
Scout Executive Scott Clabaugh for the Crossroads of America Council in the middle third of Indiana said that the Scouting activities remain strong, and the group membership and fundraising levels are growing in this 100th year. The council has about 34,000 children involved and 10,000 volunteers, he said.
The national litigation has forced Clabaugh to meet with volunteers and look at national policies and how those are implemented locally, but he remains confident in the organization.
“Scouts is a strong part of this community fabric and we’re proud to be so,” Clabaugh said. “We are always saddened when someone in the Scout movement abuses their position of trust. But we do our best to prevent that as we can, and we’re thriving here in central Indiana.”
Some of the highest-ranking members of Indiana’s legal community have their roots in the Boy Scouts, such as the state’s Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard who is an Eagle Scout from Evansville and recently spoke at a celebratory dinner event about the centennial.
Marion Superior Judge David Certo wrote in an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer that he’s disheartened when news of the Oregon litigation is mentioned, especially because it has nothing to do with what he describes as the important work done by the organization in central Indiana. Growing up in Richmond, he earned his Eagle rank with one of the oldest units in the state at the time. The judge has been involved in Scouting and volunteered for years, and said his life has been shaped by the Scouts. Focusing on the Oregon litigation does a “disservice” to the work of everyone such as Chief Justice Shepard, Sen. Richard Lugar, and former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith who all “continue to use the lessons we learned in Scouting to make Indiana a better place to live, work, and raise a family. No one would write an article about the history of the Indiana Supreme Court and mention that an Alabama justice was removed for alleged misconduct.”
In Evansville, White said his Native Trails District in that part of the state has concerns about what’s happening nationally but that they’ve not seen anything like that “in our own backyards.” He is proud of the efforts the Scouts overall have made to vet leadership and volunteers since he was a kid and says that those safety efforts are important.
“While you always worry about a taint and the broad brush you might be painted with, its part of society and you have to focus on what you do,” he said. “We keep our chin up and know that we’re judged based on what we do here.”
Indianapolis attorney Mark Glazier echoed his Scout brothers’ sentiments, describing the outside issues as unfortunate but a good reminder that predators can target all youth organizations.
He plans to take his 11-year-old son to summer camp this year, and he hopes he’ll someday see his son become the family’s third generation Eagle Scout – Glazier’s dad earned his rank three weeks after Pearl Harbor. The second-generation Eagle Scout said he’s reassured by his own organization, one that he joined as a child and stays with him now as an attorney.
“Without Scouting, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said, proudly pointing out that his Eagle Scout plaque hangs on the wall right next to his attorney oath. “I’m certainly sad about the circumstances as they happened in Oregon, but I’m always going to be a big proponent of the Boy Scouts. You can’t judge the bushel by an apple.”•