WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A lawyer for the Boy Scouts of America apologized to victims of sexual abuse by scout leaders Wednesday before the selection of an official committee to represent tort claimants in the Boy Scouts' bankruptcy case.
Nine men who say they were sexually abused as children were selected to serve on the committee after nearly eight hours of closed-door interviews by representatives of the U.S. trustee's office.
"The most difficult decision we had to make today was who not to put on the committee," David Buchbinder, a trial attorney with the trustees office, told a packed room of abuse survivors and attorneys. "We admire the courage of every single one of you."
The committee will represent the interests of potentially thousands of sexual abuse survivors seeking compensation for their suffering.
A separate official committee was appointed to represent the interests of other unsecured creditors, such as suppliers, vendors and pensioners. Members of that committee are the Girl Scouts of America, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., Pearson Education, former BSA executive Roger Ohmstede, and Lion Brothers, an apparel brand manufacturer that provides merit badges and patches.
The Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy protection last month in an effort to halt hundreds of individual lawsuits and create a huge compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.
"I again want to offer our very deep apology for any suffering that you have encountered on account of scouting," Boy Scouts attorney Jessica Boelter said before the committee selection process began. "We deeply regret any bad things that have happened to people in this room."
More than 12,000 boys have been molested by 7,800 abusers since the 1920s, according to Boy Scout files revealed in court papers. Most of the more recent cases date to the 1960s, '70s and '80s, before the Boy Scouts adopted mandatory criminal background checks, abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders must be present during all activities.
In addition to the assistant U.S. trustee for Delaware, attendees at Wednesday's meeting included regional U.S. trustee Andrew Vara, whose office oversees bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Trustee program is the arm of the Justice Department that oversees bankruptcy case administration and litigates to enforce bankruptcy laws.
"I'm here today because I recognize the importance of this proceeding to a lot of people," said Vara, who expressed his "respect and admiration" for abuse survivors.
Vara cautioned that the goal of Wednesday's proceeding was not to gather details about specific abuse claims, but to establish the ability of individuals to serve on the committee.
"The goal of the bankruptcy ... is a fair recovery for all the claimants in the case," he said.
Boelter, the attorney for the Boy Scouts, said it is important to get compensation to survivors as quickly as possible, rather than spending huge sums of money for attorneys and other professionals in a prolonged bankruptcy proceeding.
"We want to see those funds in the hands of survivors," she told attendees.
At the same time, Boelter acknowledged that attorneys for the Boy Scouts and for the claimants won't always see eye to eye as the bankruptcy process unfolds.
Attorneys for victims of sexual abuse already have made clear that they will try to go after campsites and other properties owned by the Boy Scouts' 261 local councils, and that they also want access to internal files containing abusers' names, beyond those disclosed as the result of previous litigation.
The local councils, which run day-to-day operations for local troops, were not included in the bankruptcy filing as debtors and are considered by the Boy Scouts of America to be legally separate entities.
Attorneys also are likely to battle over how long abuse victims will have to file claims for compensation before further claims are barred. The Boys Scouts have proposed 80 days after notice of the claims deadline is published, but attorneys for the abuse victims have said they will demand a longer filing period.