Survivors will soon vote on Boy Scout's plan to exit bankruptcy, a crucial next-step in case

·6 min read

Sexual abuse survivors will get a say for the first time in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case, more than a year and a half after the youth group filed for Chapter 11 protection in the face of mounting legal pressure.

Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein signed an order Thursday allowing the nonprofits's plan for reorganization to be voted on by creditors, including tens of thousands of sexual abuse survivors.

The move is a critical step in the largest case of its kind, touching off a timeline that calls for the voting period to run from October to December.

A confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 24, when Silverstein will vet the legality of the plan and give a final signoff.

Thursday's order followed a days-long hearing that aired dozens of objections to the organization's disclosure statement, a plain-language outline of the scouting group's finances to help creditors decide whether to accept or reject its reorganization plan.

During the hearing, several adjustments were made: contributions by local councils to a survivors' trust were added, along with breakdowns calculated by the Torts Claimants Committee – the official body representing survivors – of what those survivors could expect to receive in settlements.

Which victims will get a settlement: And how much? One person will decide.

More: Boy Scouts bankruptcy update: Settlement OK'd by judge, but amounts for survivors still unknown

James Stang, an attorney for the committee, opposes the plan, saying the settlements that Boy Scouts and other parties have reached to fund the trust "are simply way below what they should be paying given their liability."

"Under the current settlements, someone who was sodomized repeatedly will get about $50,000," Stang said.

That's far below what even Boy Scouts has set as a baseline value for that type of abuse. Within the plan, Boy Scouts created a matrix to help determine who gets how much, with six tiers starting at sexual abuse that did not involve touching – valued at $3,500 to $8,500 – to rape, which could reach $2.7 million.

But language added this week after the hearing makes it clear that the current trust funding comes nowhere near those figures. According to a table created by the committee the $1.8 billion currently in the trust fund would only cover 9.63% of Scouts' estimates of the value of abuse claims.

For example, survivors who experienced abuse that did not involve touching, such as being forced to watch porn by a Scout leader, could receive as little as $19.

A USA TODAY analysis suggests that as many as half of those who filed claims could end up with a few thousand dollars – a fraction of what their counterparts have been allotted in more than a dozen bankruptcy cases involving Catholic dioceses.

"I think the plan further harms victims, except this time the BSA is doing it intentionally and out in the open for all to see," said Delia Lujan Wolff, who represents 75 survivors of sexual abuse in Guam.

The bulk of Wolff's clients say they were abused by Father Louis Brouillard, a prolific abuser who admitted in a 2016 interview with the USA TODAY Network that "it's possible" he sexually abused boys in Guam. He later signed an affidavit admitting to abusing 20 or more on the island, and stood accused in more than 130 sexual abuse lawsuits by the time he died in 2018.

Wolff's cases are a prime example of the complexity of the Scout's bankruptcy. At the time Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 protection, her clients were among the 85 lawsuits already filed against the Aloha Council that covers Guam, Hawaii and American Samoa.

Brouillard was both a Scout leader and priest with the Catholic church during the time he was accused of abuse. The Archdiocese of Agana in Guam, Brouillard's employer, was also the sponsoring organization for the troops that most of Wolff's clients belonged to at the time of their abuse. That Archdiocese also has filed for bankruptcy under the weight of sexual abuse litigation.

All of those entities – the local council, sponsoring organization and their insurers – are seeking protection from liability through Boy Scout's reorganization plan in exchange for their insurance rights or settlements to be paid into a trust for survivors.

The local councils have agreed to contribute $600 million to the trust. Survivor's attorneys argued during the recent hearing to add individual contribution figures for each of the more than 250 councils to the plan, which Boy Scouts did this week. Those breakdowns show that some councils are only paying a fraction of the estimated value of claims against them.

For example, the Aloha Council, where Wolff's clients have pending lawsuits, is contributing $1.33 million. That accounts for less than 2% of the low end of estimated value of abuse claims against it.

Gilion Dumas, who represents 65 survivors largely in the upper Northwest, said that based on past cases she's settled with the Cascade Pacific Council in Oregon, the settlement value of her client's claims alone would exceed the $10 million the council is contributing.

The biggest concern for those who oppose the plan is a settlement with the largest insurer of the Boy Scouts of America. Earlier this month, Scouts, along with the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice – an ad hoc group of attorneys representing survivors –reached an agreement with Hartford for $787 million. Detractors say that barely covers Hartford's liability.

"I have clients with $500,000 in insurance coverage who are going to get $50-30,000. That’s the reality," said attorney Jason Amala, referencing insurance policies like those issued by Hartford, which would traditionally cover abuse claims in civil court proceedings. Such proceedings were barred by the Scouts' decision to declare bankruptcy.

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He posed as a doctor: Behind the facade was an accused child molester.

Also added to the disclosure statement was information on the insurance plans purchased by Boy Scouts over several decades. Plans that span the 1960s and 1970s, when the bulk of sexual abuse allegations occurred, generally have a per-occurrence limit of $500,000 – meaning each claim of bodily injury could be covered up to that amount.

Ken Rothweiler, an attorney with the coalition who supports the plan, praised the Hartford settlement as an increase of several million from an earlier version.

"We’re pressing insurers and charter organizations as much as we can," Rothweiler said.

Conversations are continuing about additional settlements from Boy Scout's other insurers, as well as from charter organizations like churches and civic groups that sponsor Scout troops, Rothweiler said. Scouts and the coalition reached a similar deal with the Mormon church for $250 million last month.

"We’re in active mediation. The process has always been a building process. We started at zero, went to $850 million with Boy Scouts and the local councils, which we thought to be the most we could squeeze out of them, and we're still building," Rothweiler said.

But those who oppose the plan said that's "counting chickens before they hatch."

"There’s no certainty there will be more settlements," Stang said, "and people will vote on what the status is at time they vote."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boy Scouts: Plan to exit bankruptcy will soon be up for a vote