District in evolution debate to pay $1 million in legal fees
Thursday, February 23, 2006
By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Dover Area School District, whose board members lost a battle to have intelligent design taught in the classroom last December, must pay $1 million in attorney's fees.
The settlement was reached after a month of negotiations and approved Tuesday night by the new school board.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that reasonable court costs in the case totaled $2.067 million.
After a six-week trial, Judge Jones ruled that the school board could not require teachers to read students a disclaimer cautioning them that evolution is not based in fact and adding that intelligent design is an alternative theory that could be considered.
The requirement was challenged by 11 parents in the district, who were represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State; the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; and the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton.
After Judge Jones found in their favor, he set the attorneys fees at just over $2 million. But the plaintiffs agreed to settle for a lesser amount as a kind of reward to the Dover school district.
"We realize this is a small school district for which a financial burden of more than $2 million is tremendous," said Richard Katskee, the assistant legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Because the community has taken steps to remedy the problem -- eight incumbent board members who supported intelligent design were ousted in last year's election -- the plaintiffs felt the district did not need to be punished.
"We didn't want them to be hampered by the past," Mr. Katskee said.
It does, though, send a strong message to other school boards, he said, to ensure they don't try to do the same thing.
All of the experts who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs donated their time. Mr. Katskee estimated the lawyers in the case spent about 5,000 hours on it.
"The $2 million was a very conservative number, so they got a terrific deal," said Witold Walczak, who spent about 1,500 hours on the case. "The next school district isn't going to get the same break that Dover did."
About $250,000 in expenses will come right off the top of the $1 million settlement, Mr. Katskee said. The rest of the money will be divided between his group and the ACLU. Pepper Hamilton waived all its fees.
The school district has until Aug. 31 to pay, said Dover Solicitor Stephen Russell. The district's insurance will not cover the settlement, Mr. Russell said, because the school board agreed to be represented in the lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center, which bills itself as defending the religious freedom of Christians.
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George W. Bush
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