Gainesville abuse survivor to help decide Boy Scouts settlement

February 17, 2016 Gainesville, GA: Robb Lawson has come forward saying he was sexually assaulted by a Boy Scout leader while on a camping trip in the 1980's. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

When the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in February, Robb Lawson, who alleges a former Gainesville scoutmaster raped him more than three decades ago, said he was concerned victims may never receive closure.

Lawson sued the BSA in 2016, one of roughly 300 complaints filed against the 110-year-old organization alleging sexual abuse by adult volunteers. Two weeks ago, he was one of nine survivors appointed by the Department of Justice to represent the victims’ interest in the Chapter 11 case.

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“At the end of the day, these nine men will have an important say on how the Boy Scouts move forward,” said James Stang, lead counsel for the claimants.

Stang knows the process well. Since the early 2000s, when the Catholic sex abuse scandal unfolded, at least 20 dioceses and religious orders have declared bankruptcy. According to his biography, Stang has been involved in more than half.

“(The committee) is going to feel they’re at a level of participation they would’ve never had as individual litigants,” said Stang, who currently represents the tort claimants committee of nine women sexually assaulted while on the USA Gymnastics squad by team doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to as many as 175 years in prison for sexual abusing young women under his care.

That case shows the challenges facing the nine former scouts. The committee of Olympic gymnasts, formed more than one year ago, recently rejected a $217 million proposal to settle sexual abuse claims from 517 survivors.

But financial compensation might not be the most difficult hurdle in negotiations with the BSA.

“One of the goals of the committee is full disclosure of the history of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts,” Stang said.

The BSA has fought such exposure at every turn. In 2012, a court ordered them to turn over confidential “perversion files” identifying more than 7,000 perpetrators. But those documents accounted for just 20 years, from 1965 to 1985. Many of the predators remain unidentified.

Lawson, now 49, publicly named Fleming Weaver, a well-known civic figure in Gainesville, as his abuser in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lawson said he was molested by Weaver in 1985, four years after Weaver had admitted to abusing two boys under his supervision as Troop 26 scoutmaster. He would later confess to sexually abusing at least “five or six boys” during his time in Scouts. Weaver has declined multiple requests from the AJC for comment.

Three other former Scouts would join Lawson’s claim against Weaver, filed after temporary legislation extended the statute of limitations in Georgia for childhood victims of sexual abuse seeking damages.

But that window quickly closed. Efforts to change the state law shielding entities such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church from civil liability in sex abuse cases failed, leaving the plaintiffs with little legal recourse.

“Given the current state of Georgia law, bankruptcy will be the only way survivors will get any measure of justice,” said Atlanta attorney Esther Panitch, who, along with Natalie Woodward Mike Terry, represents the Gainesville men.

Lawson, citing the confidential nature of the committee’s work, declined comment. He was selected from among hundreds of survivors interviewed by a trustee assigned by the DOJ.

“I’m so proud of Robb for being willing to give voice to the thousands of survivors victimized not only by these predators but also the conspiracy of silence perpetuated by the Boy Scouts,” Panitch said.