A few hours before Bruce Nagel was scheduled to commence opening arguments before a New Jersey jury, the Boy Scouts of America decided to settle the case he and his three clients had brought against them. Shortly after the confidential settlement, The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy.
On December 13, Bruce Nagel’s production company, B. Nagel Films, will release its first documentary, “Boy Scout’s Honor,” which follows the tale of Aaron Averhart, his four-year account of sexual abuse from his Scoutmaster, Bill Sheehan, and his realization years later that he was not alone in his abuse.
“This project was important to me because I was a Scout,” Nagel says. “This was a story that needed to be told.”
Nagel’s goal with the documentary was threefold. First, he wanted viewers to realize that an American institution had been flawed from its inception and they knowingly covered it up. Secondly, he wanted adults to be educated on the grooming process, so they can better protect their children moving forward.
“Lastly, I wanted to focus on redemption,” he says. “I wanted to show the way in which people who have been horribly and inexcusably abused as children found the inner strength to claw their way back to life. I think we did that with Aaron, the lead narrator, as well as with a number of the others he bonded with.”
Over the years, thousands of claims have been brought against the Boy Scouts following their failure to protect the young men in their organization from predators. Much like the Catholic Church, they were made aware of incidents for years before it became public knowledge. The Boy Scouts stored 20,000 pages worth of information regarding sexual abuse accusations in what was dubbed “the perversion files” in their headquarters. The existence of the files was not publicly shared until compelled by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2012.
“They had the largest databank of pedophiles in the world,” Nagel says. “Even more than the Catholic Church. No one knew it.”
Many of the cases brought against The Boy Scouts relied upon the inclusion of the perpetrator in these “perversion files.” Nagel took his case a step further.
“In our case, the Scoutmaster wasn’t in the perversion files,” Nagel shares. “We attacked the ‘Youth Protection Plan’ generally, which was put into place in the 1980s to protect Scouts against sexual abuse by Scoutmasters and others. The Boy Scouts assembled some of the leading experts in sexual abuse in children, along with an FBI profiler and a number of academics. That committee put together the plan.
“We went around the country and deposed the surviving members of the committee,” Nagel continues. “We asked them, were they given access to the perversion files. The answer was universally no. And, had they known about it, would the plan have been radically different. The answer was yes. So, we attacked the plan generally.”
Since The Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy more than 82,000 claims of abuse have been submitted, a number that insurers are still fighting in appellate court today.
“I think the claims are understated,” Nagel says. “My view is that there are many more Scouts that were abused than filed claims. In every case, I get calls from others who were abused by the same priest, the same rabbi, the same teacher, the same Scoutmaster, and they say, ‘It happened to me, but I just can’t come forward. I can’t face it. I can’t live it again.’”
Nagel is a renowned trial attorney, who has brought many high-profile cases to the courtroom. His caseload is many and varied, including a natural resource damage case against Exxon-Mobile, landmark class actions against several insurance companies that established coverage for eating disorders, and a settlement against Short Hills Mall in a case involving the carjacking and a wrongful death of a mall patron.
Currently, Nagel is working on a a cyberbullying case that resulted in the death of a middle school student as well as a fundamental change in how defense attorneys interview victims of sexual abuse.
While he’s certainly not looking to slow down his trial practice any time soon, he has taken up film production as a hobby and passion project. “Boy Scouts Honor” will not be his last documentary. His production company is already working on two new projects involving cases that made the news over the years.
“I’ve been a trial lawyer for 40 years,” Nagel says. “In recent years, I’ve done what I’ve always wanted to do – make films.”