HELENA – A lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America by five women who were sexually abused by a Kalispell Scout leader in the 1970s will move forward after a judge rejected arguments by the organization that time had run out on their claims.
The attorney for the women, who are now in their 50s, said District Judge James Reynolds’ ruling means the case is now likely to go trial unless a settlement is negotiated.
“Trial would be the best course in terms of getting the full story made public. A problem like child sexual abuse within a trusted institution can only be solved when it is fully understood, and can only be fully understood when the facts are all made public,” attorney Gilion Dumas said in an email to the Associated Press Tuesday.
However, the court will likely require both sides to go through mediation or a settlement conference, she said.
“If a negotiated settlement would help any of these women heal, then we must do what is best for them,” Dumas said.
Gordon Rubard, executive director of the Boy Scouts’ Montana Council, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. He has previously said the safety and health of Boy Scouts members are the organization’s top priorities.
The women said William Leininger Jr. repeatedly raped or molested them under the pretense of demonstrating first-aid techniques in the Explorer Scouts program when they were between the ages of 11 and 15. The Explorer Scouts program was a Boy Scouts program developed for girls.
Leininger was convicted in 1976 of abusing the five girls and a sixth who is not involved in the lawsuit. He was convicted again in 1982 of another charge of sexual intercourse without consent, and died in prison in 2002 at age 80.
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The women say in their lawsuit they only discovered in 2010 and 2011 the connection between their abuse as children and the physical, mental and emotional damage it has caused them to this day.
The Boy Scouts failed to protect them from predatory scoutmasters such as Leininger, the lawsuit says.
The Boy Scouts argued the lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations, which says an action must be brought within three years of the abuse.
Reynolds wrote in his Aug. 15 order that Montana law also allows victims of childhood abuse to file a claim within three years after a person discovered an injury was caused by the abuse.
The law is meant to allow an abuse victim to “connect the dots” between the abuse and later physical and psychological problems, Reynolds wrote.
Also, the Boy Scouts did not disclose to what degree they were aware of the presence of predators in their ranks until 2010, Reynolds wrote.
Documents on Leininger were among 14,500 pages of secret “perversion files” the Boy Scouts collected on Scout leaders who were suspected of sexual abuse. The files were shown to an Oregon jury in 2010 and released to the public last year under court order. The women filed their lawsuit in 2011.
The file on Leininger was created after his conviction and includes a description of his convictions and a news article describing his offenses.
“While we have thought Mr. Leininger would never be out in public again, information has come to us that he will shortly be up for parole,” Scout Executive Robert Hanawalt said in a 1976 letter in the file.