Five men receive $40,000 each in sex abuse case

The Lake Oswego School Board on Tuesday formally approved a $200,000 settlement between the district and five men, closing a sex abuse lawsuit from the 1980s that went to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The school board met in executive session on the issue before unanimously giving the settlement the thumbs-up during the regular meeting. In exchange for full release and final dismissal of litigation against the school district, each of the anonymous plaintiffs will receive $40,000 in the Clackamas County Circuit Court case of Jack Does v. Lake Oswego School District and Judd Johnson.

The school district’s liability insurer, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, will pay for the settlement, which does not affect the plaintiffs’ claims against the district’s codefendant, Judd Johnson, said David Ernst, attorney for the school district.

Johnson was a fifth-grade teacher from 1965 to 1984 at Bryant, Forest Hills and Lake Grove elementary schools, and he is accused of acts including fondling boys’ genitals in front of their classmates. Ernst, who is with Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland, said he is glad to see the decades-old case closed where the district’s concerned.

“Anything that can possibly resolve that and get the district moving on is a good thing in my view,” he said.

It is the first time an older child abuse case has been allowed to go forward against a government body, according to the late Kelly Clark, an attorney who previously had represented the plaintiffs. Clark died in December, and other attorneys at his firm, O’Donnell, Clark and Crew in Portland, took on his cases. A representative at the firm could not be reached.

Upon approving the district’s settlement, three school board members shared their opinions, finishing each other’s sentences.

“With great appreciation to David Ernst,” board member John Wendland said.

“Our attorney, our insurance company for insuring us,” board Chairwoman Patti Zebrowski said.

“And a fair settlement,” board member Bob Barman finished.

The plaintiffs, three of whom still live in Lake Oswego, were seeking $2 million each for emotional trauma and psychological trauma and $100,000 each for future therapy.

The Oregon Supreme Court in March 2013 announced its unanimous decision to return the case to Clackamas County Circuit Court, which had first dismissed it. The trial court and the Oregon Court of Appeals originally ruled that the case could not be tried because of a two-year statute of limitations on abuse charges against government bodies.

Ernst said it was too late to try the case, and the victims should have come forward sooner.

Clark and another lawyer once on the case, Kristian Roggendorf, got in touch with attorneys for child abuse organizations, who filed a brief supporting the lawsuit that cited professional research on the longterm effects of child sex abuse.

The victims have struggled as many child abuse survivors do, suffering from issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, depression, trouble establishing relationships and distrust of authority to the point of being unable to hold a job, Clark said last year. Clark also led a successful child molestation lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America in 2010. 

“It usually takes decades for victims to understand how the abuse has injured them, and this case shows that Oregon law now recognizes that mental health reality,” he said in March 2013.

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