A jury in Oakland, California, has decided that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are partially responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of a young girl by one of its members, forcing the religious organization to pay her $20 million.
After being awarded $7 million in compensatory damages on Wednesday, the Alameda County Superior Court jury awarded Candace Conti, the 26-year-old plaintiff, an additional $21 million in punitive damages on Thursday to be paid by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) are responsible for paying all of the punitive damages, and 40% of the compensatory damages. Jonathan Kendrick, the man accused of sexually molesting the plaintiff, has to come up with the other 60%.
Conti sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kendrick in 2011. “The ultimate goal of the lawsuit was to have a change in policy, to be able to ID these people, child molesters, to the congregation to protect children,” Conti told MSNBC. “Secondarily, to have silent ones come forward and tell their stories and to bring to light that overall issue of violence and the hush-hush policy.”
Jim McCabe, attorney for the Jehovah’s Witnesses was floored by the verdict and plans to appeal. “This is the first case I know of where a church has been hit with liability involving a rank-and-file member,” he said. “Mr. Simons has his twist on the facts and we will see how a court of appeals views the trial court rulings and the evidence.”
Kendrick is a registered sex offender and was convicted in 2004 of molesting another girl in Contra Costa County.
“Nothing can bring back my childhood,” said Conti. “But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it.”