Saturday, July 14, 2007

OSC to LDS: How Rich ARE You, Anyway?

This may be one of the more ingenious ways to induce a settlement in recent memory:
The Oregon Supreme Court rejected an effort by the LDS Church to withhold financial information from the lawyers for a man who claims a home teacher frequently molested him about 20 years ago.

Despite the legal defeat, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not immediately release the detailed financial information about its net worth, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

Kelly Clark, an attorney for the Oregon man suing the church, said it would be good for a jury to have the information before considering his request for $45 million in punitive damages. A trial is scheduled for Aug. 6.

"A jury needs to know the entire financial context to know whether a punitive award is too much or sufficient or not enough," Clark said.

The LDS church sought emergency relief from a trial court order to turn over the financial information, but the Oregon Supreme Court late Monday rejected the appeal. The pretrial decision was reached on narrow pretrial grounds and doesn't mean the court would not ultimately side with the church's position that the Constitution protects its right to keep financial information private.
That last part's important; it may never come to the point where the church is forced to open their books.

But what it does is put enormous pressure on them to settle, as they did in 2001 for another Oregon man who claimed he was abused by an LDS Sunday school teacher--an eerily similar case as the current one being handled for the plaintiff by attorney Kelly Clark. Not only is Clark now holding the cards on whether the church caves in on another sex abuse case, he has already named his price to call: $45 million. Church officials may not believe avoiding a trial and negative publicity in this case is by itself worth that kind of jing, but the ramifications of revealing global asset holdings may well be worth the retreat:
Mormonism is unique in the way it collects tithes and offerings from local church units into a common pool at its Salt Lake City headquarters, then disperses the money to areas as needed. An all-volunteer clergy governs the church, but chapels and temples, missionary allowances and educator salaries are paid out of general church funds.
Because LDS assets are listed together, rather than by region, financial disclosure of any part of the assets would reveal all the church's holdings. To Mormon leaders, that's an unfair expectation.
"I'm not aware of any group or denomination that would funnel all money into the central repository. That would be totally unheard of in Protestantism," Busby said. "Most denominations require that local churches pay a percentage or per capita amount to headquarters, but usually only 10 or 15 percent used to fund headquarters operations."
Even the Catholic Church, which has a centralized leadership at the Vatican, is financed at the diocesan level. That's why several U.S. dioceses have filed for bankruptcy after being hit with millions of dollars in abuse awards, but no one asked to see all the Vatican's records.
The rest of that article also has a good treatment on why the Church stopped revealing their finances in the mid 20th Century. So, it's not just what the Mormons in Oregon have that would necessarily be revealed, it would be their holdings worldwide. As I said, I think Clark has really done a smooth job of putting the LDS behind the 8-ball on this one.

And is that a surprise, really? If you don't recognize the name, he's most recently famous for helping orchestrate the enshrinement of discrimination into the Oregon Constitution regarding same-sex marriage--but he's about as hard to pigeonhole as they come. A sex offending former alcoholic who ruined a promising career in Salem as the rep from my District 38, (having originally ousted current Lake Oswego mayor Judie Hammerstad) he's certainly bounced back and enjoys taking on big interests like governments and churches. He's handed it to the Catholics a number of times, so he doesn't play favorites when it comes to denomination. Whatever else he is he's canny, and whether or not the LDS has to show what they know, Clark is likely to see a tasty payday--and a win for his client. And if the allegations are true, $45 million is easy apology money for the LDS, so they get no sympathy.

By the way, this isn't the first time the OSC has pissed off the Mormons. Two years ago they ruled that the City of West Linn had the right to prevent them from building a church in a residential area. No Christmas cards for the Justices this year, either!

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