Lawsuit Looks to Hold Boy Scouts, Schools Liable for Sexual Abuse

By JESSE WINTER
For The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — The tidal wave of sexual abuse scandals that enveloped the Boy Scouts of America has made its way to Westfield.

On April 21 the law firm Rebenack, Aronow and Mascolo filed a civil action lawsuit case against various local Boy Scout councils and Westfield Public Schools in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Union County, alleging that the organizations and institutions in question were liable in allowing one Robert Kerwin to sexually abuse an unnamed minor, the firm’s client, from 1969 through 1971.

According to the suit, Robert Kerwin, a Cub Scout leader and volunteer, allegedly groomed and sexually abused the youth, who was between the ages of 9 and 10 when the sexual abuse occurred. The unnamed child, referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit, is an adult currently living in California.

The lawsuit seeks compensation from the responsible parties for the damages caused by Kerwin’s alleged behavior.

These damages include, “physical and psychological injuries, including but not limited to, severe emotional and psychological distress,” the lawsuit says. “Some or all of these injuries are of a permanent and lasting nature, and Plaintiff has and/or will become obligated to expend sums of money for treatment.”

The alleged acts include Kerwin forcing the plaintiff to perform fellatio, along with fondling and masturbating the plaintiff, when he was a member of the Cub Scout troop led by Kerwin, according to the lawsuit. The alleged sexual abuses took place in a cabin, during gymnastics, hiking and merit badge activities.

The crux of the lawsuit targets organizations and entities that are liable for failing to protect the child entrusted to their care.

“This case arises from childhood sexual abuse and exploitation that Plaintiff John Doe suffered at the hands of the defendant’s Scout leader and volunteer, Robert Kerwin, who the defendants knew, or should have known posed a danger to him and other children,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite their knowledge, the defendants failed to take reasonable steps to protect Plaintiff John Doe from the danger of being sexually abused by Robert Kerwin.”

Jay Silvio Mascolo, the attorney who filed the lawsuit and represents the plaintiff, provided further elaboration.

“Did anyone affiliated with that school or local organization have an idea that this perpetrator was a potential risk?” Mr. Mascolo told The Westfield Leader and The Times. “Did they have any knowledge of it [abuse] and if so, what did they do about it?”

In the lawsuit, Westfield Public Schools and Franklin Elementary School are named as defendants as they sponsored, through a charter agreement, the Cub Scout troop led by Kerwin. Details as to how Westfield Public Schools and Franklin Elementary School acted in a manner that made them liable was not mentioned in specific detail.

Westfield Public Schools and Franklin Elementary School join the Patriot’s Path Council Inc., Boy Scouts of America; Watchung Area Council, Boy Scouts of America; and Union County Boy Scouts of America as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed after New Jersey passed “look-back” legislation in 2019, which extends the statute of limitations on cases involving sexual abuse. The look-back law allows victims of sexual abuse to file civil suits until Tuesday, November 30, targeting entities liable for allowing predatory behavior.

According to the Zero Abuse Project, “Between December 2019 and November 30, 2021, survivors of any age who were abused as minors or adults can file a lawsuit against the person(s) who harmed them and negligent institutions, both public and private, who covered up and enabled the assault — no matter how long ago the harm occurred.”

Mr. Mascolo is unaware of Robert Kerwin’s whereabouts, or even if he is still alive — but did tell The Leader and The Times that he could potentially be sought out and subpoenaed if necessary. While Kerwin is identified in the lawsuit as John Doe’s abuser, he is not a named defendant in the lawsuit. Tax records show a Robert Kerwin owning property in Westfield since 1965.

Mr. Mascolo emphasized the lawsuit revolves around compensation from organizations and entities liable in allowing Kerwin to prey on the plaintiff.

“The heart of the cases against the Boy Scouts,” explained Mr. Mascolo, is if the Boy Scouts “knew about this problem, they knew deviants, for lack of a better word, were within their ranks and really didn’t do anything about it.”

In addition to the law firm Rebenack, Aronow and Mascolo, the firm Pfau Cochran Verteis Amala is listed as an attorney for the defendant.

Asked for comment on the civil action lawsuit filed on April 21, the Boy Scouts were “unable to provide comment at this time,” according to a statement delivered via email.

Mary Ann McGann, coordinator of school and community relations, said, “We are in receipt of a legal document regarding events reported to have taken place in 1969. The district cannot comment on pending litigation.”

The Boy Scouts of America national organization declared bankruptcy in 2020.

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