VALE – The attorney for the Portland man suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America said his client is typical of many who come forward later in life with sexual abuse lawsuits aimed at individuals employed or formerly employed by high-profile entities.
Portland attorney Kelly Clark, a child sex abuse attorney and former Oregon state legislator, filed a lawsuit in Malheur County Circuit Court Feb. 21 on behalf of a Portland-area man seeking nearly $5 million in general damages from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America.
The man, referred to in court documents only as Tom Doe, asserts he experienced abuse from an LDS youth leader and Boy Scout troop master named Larren Arnold, as a youth in Nampa.
Clark, an attorney with the Portland law firm O’Donnell, Clark and Crew LLP, said based on his experience working with sex abuse victim claims, he absolutely believes Doe’s allegations are true and the lawsuit warranted.
“Because I’ve done a number of these cases over the years, I have a system of evaluating both the client and the case, and this met all the criteria,” Clark said, adding when a potential client comes to him with a case, the first thing he does is establish its plausibility based on the background he is provided.
“It’s all about credibility,” he said.
The criteria he said he uses in his validity test essentially determines whether the potential client knows what a child abuse survivor is supposed to know, including places or activities where the abuse occurred, when it happened, the relationship of the victim and the abuser, why the abuse was kept inside for so long and whether the story holds together.
“I want the client to be credible, the witnesses credible. I want some corroboration,” Clark said.
He said his client was able to provide that information for him, and he is confident there is a case to be made.
Kelly said filing the lawsuit was just the first stage, and from beginning to conclusion, the legal process could take 12 to 18 months.
Much more work has to be done, including locating witnesses and determining whether they are willing to testify, if the case will proceed in court, he said.
The biggest challenge, Clark said, is proving to the defendants the sex abuse took place.
Once it is established, however, settlements are pretty easily reached with the defendants, such as church organizations.
“They want to try to do the right thing in these cases once they’re convinced that it’s true,” Clark said.
When asked by the Argus Observer for a comment, Kim Farah, a public relations representative from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, e-mailed a prepared statement from Craig Rowe, LDS spokesman for Idaho.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a zero tolerance policy for child abuse and does all it can to help victims and report abuse. It will seriously investigate these decades’ old allegations,” Rowe said in the statement, which is the same statement Rowe provided to the media Feb. 21, when the story first broke.
While Clark has experience representing victims when the accuser is an institution of trust, he said he doesn’t know if the number of cases against the Mormon Church and/or Mormon Church/Boy Scouts will reach the levels it has in lawsuits and settlements involving the Roman Catholic Church.
“That’s the question,” he said. “I don’t know the answer.”
While he does not know what the statistics will end up being regarding sex abuse in the LDS church, he believes they may be more than people might think.
“I don’t think we’ll find the amount of documented cover-ups as we did in the Catholic Church,” Clark said, adding the Catholic Church is unusual in that church leaders record nearly everything.
That is not true in the Mormon church, he said, so he doesn’t think an institutional cover-up will ever be proven.
Clark did say, however, his client hopes people who have been sexually abused in the past take courage in this case and seek help through counseling treatment, even if they decide they don’t want to pursue a lawsuit.
One of the things he said that bothers him about this case is the tie between the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts, both which are well-respected, and rightfully-so, Clark said.
“The LDS Church is the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops than any other organization in the United States,” Clark said.
According to the LDS Scouting Area Relationships Committee, National Capital Area Council Web site, LDS members have been members of the Boy Scouts of America for more than 90 years and sponsor more than 34,000 units and 399,260 members nationwide.
Clark explained, in the LDS church, becoming a Boy Scout troop master is more than a volunteer or recreational activity, it is considered a “church calling.”
That is why, Clark said, these cases are so tragic because the victims are affected physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As a result of Doe’s own abuse, Clark said, his client is very angry at the LDS Church, the Boy Scouts and Arnold, the youth leader/troop master Doe asserts abused him, about what happened to him and what he carries inside.
Clark said one of the most frequent questions asked in this case is why his client, who in this case is now 53, waited so long to come forward with something that supposedly took place when the person was a youth.
That, however, he said is typical in those cases, and one of the determining factors of whether a claim is valid is whether the client has remembered, acknowledged or spoken about his or her trauma.
Victims, such as Doe, instead “compartmentalize” the memories of the sex abuse, blocking the trauma out of day-to-day thoughts, which is why the trauma often resurfaces decades later, Clark said.
Clark said his client did not wait all these years to come forward because he did not even recognize mentally he was abused until a series of events, including intimacy and trust issues in a relationship, anger and an episode of depression triggered the memories of the abuse last year.
Clark said, at that point, his client began to understand why he had certain problems in his life and sought help.
He said his client remains in therapy, and both Doe and his therapist will testify in court.
According to the lawsuit documents, Doe has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since seeking help.
Clark said his client is outwardly extroverted but suffers from trust, intimacy and authority issues.
His client’s psychological problems with authority have not led to a criminal record, however, he said.
“He’s actually a high-functioning professional, highly intelligent, highly articulate, successful in a number of ways,” Clark said. “He just has inner demons he’s been carrying around for decades.”