A judge ruled Friday that the attorneys for a 20-year-old man molested by a Boy Scout leader in 2007 could use internal documents known as the "perversion files" in an upcoming civil trial.
The ruling by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Donna Geck opens the door to the possibility that the files containing information on 16 years of sexual abuse allegations around the country could one day be released to the public.
Attorneys for the Boy Scouts of America on Friday sought to prevent the victim's attorneys from being able to use the documents in court, saying they had no bearing on the case.
"What those people did [in other states] is not relevant to this case," said Nicholas Heldt, a Boy Scouts attorney.
But attorneys for the Santa Barbara County man said information in the documents would show a jury that the Scouts used a "policy of secrecy" in handling allegations of sexual abuse and withheld information about suspected abusers from parents and children.
"This is the very best evidence to establish what the Boy Scouts of America knew," said Timothy Hale, an attorney for the man.
The lawsuit stems from a 2007 incident involving volunteer Scout leader Al Steven Stein, then 29, who was charged with abusing a 13-year-old Scout and two other boys.
Stein pleaded no contest to a felony child-endangerment charge. He was placed on five years' probation but violated it by having photos of nude children stored on his cellphone. He was sentenced to two years in prison but was paroled early and is now registered as a sex offender in Salinas.
The family of the 13-year-old, who is now 20, sued the youth organization, alleging among other things that a local Scout official tried to keep the boy's mother from reporting Stein's crime to police. The lawsuit contends the Scouts knew or should have known that Stein had put the boy at risk, and cites the official's reluctance to call police as evidence of a "culture of hidden sexual abuse" within the organization.
In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit sought to force the Scouts to hand over thousands of confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders and others around the nation.
Known as "ineligible volunteer files," or "perversion files," the documents have been maintained since the 1920s and are intended to keep suspected molesters and others accused of misconduct from Scouting. The youth group has long resisted releasing the files, contending that confidentiality is necessary to protect the privacy of victims, those who report abuse, and those wrongly accused.
In October 2012, more than 1,200 of the files from 1965 to 1985 were made public by order of the Oregon Supreme Court after they were admitted as evidence in a lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20-million jury award to an abused former Scout.
The Los Angeles Times' analysis of a slightly larger batch of files — about 1,900 covering 1970 to 1991 — revealed that the Scouts often failed to report abuse to authorities and repeatedly covered up allegations to protect the organization's reputation.
Lawyers in the Santa Barbara lawsuit sought more recent files, which they said would support their claims. In January 2012, Geck ordered all files dating to 1991 turned over to the boy's lawyers but not made public.
Subsequent court challenges by the Scouts were rebuffed by a California appeals court and the state Supreme Court, setting the stage for Friday's hearing.