Judges' wording often borrowed
Judges' wording often borrowed
Intelligent design supporters say Jones copied ACLU's language in his opinion.
By RICK LEE - York Daily Record/Sunday News, 12/13/2006
An organization that supported the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover federal court case has chastised Judge John E. Jones III for taking credit for a part of his final ruling that it claims actually was written by the ACLU. Locally, attorneys said the mere fact a judge adopts a party's findings of fact in a ruling is not in itself a judicial error or indiscretion.

James D. Greenberg, a partner in the York firm Katherman, Briggs and Greenberg, said, "A judge doesn't adopt findings of fact until he hears (testimony) and agrees it supports those facts.

"Any judge who is efficient and well-versed in the law takes advantage of the findings of fact. It's par for the course. Any attempt to make a stink out of it is absurd."

A statement released Tuesday by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture said Jones regurgitated the American Civil Liberties Union's findings of fact when he held that the Dover school board's actions violated the First Amendment clause against establishing religion in a public school science class. The institute promotes the concept of intelligent design.

John West, vice president for the institute's public and legal affairs, declined to call Jones' ruling plagiarism. But, he said Tuesday, Jones "wrote an essay and he is taking credit for it."

Jones was named as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the arena of scientists and thinkers and "received hyperbolic praise" for the ruling, West said.

Language in Jones' conclusion, a widely quoted part of the ruling, does not appear in the ACLU's findings of fact. In the conclusion, for example, Jones comments on the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board's intelligent design decision and noted that while Darwin's theory is imperfect, that doesn't mean an "untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion" should be introduced into science class.

The institute's statement conceded that "judges routinely make use of proposed findings of fact." But it also said that "this finding (by the institute) seriously undercuts the credibility" of Jones' ruling.

West said Jones' "cut and paste" of the ACLU's findings of fact into his ruling included factual errors and misquoting a witness. He said the final ruling was not a "fair summary of the (trial) record."

"Judges are supposed to exercise independent judgement," West said. "The structure, the wording, the factual errors are all pretty much ACLU."

"The appellate court judges frown on wholesale copying," he said. He added that the institute would release case law today supporting that claim.

Greenberg, who read Jones' ruling, said a verdict slip in a jury trial is the same as the findings of fact in a bench trial. In both scenarios, parties involved in the dispute have an opportunity to offer their respective positions for the fact-finders' consideration, he said.

Sara Austin, president of the York County Bar Association and head of The Austin Group, said parties are required by the courts to submit findings of fact and "a judge can adopt some, all or none of the proposed findings."

In the final ruling, a judge's decision "is the judge's findings and it doesn't matter who submitted them," she said.

Attorney Suzanne Sennett Smith said she recently was involved in a case where the Pennsylvania Superior Court adopted findings of fact "and they weren't mine."

She said although she did not like the result, "there's nothing wrong with that."

Jones told the Associated Press he had no comment on the institute's criticism of his ruling.


Background: The Dover Area School Board added a mention of intelligent design to its ninth-grade biology curriculum in October 2004.

Intelligent design asserts that living things exhibit such complex systems that they must have been engineered by an intelligent agent.

Board members who supported the curriculum change said students should learn alternatives to evolution.

Critics of the board's decision argued intelligent design is an attempt to get creationism and religion into classrooms.

The lawsuit: In December 2004, 11 parents of Dover Area students sued the school board and district, claiming the board's decision unconstitutionally established religion in public school. The trial in Harrisburg ended Nov. 4, 2005.

U.S. Middle District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in December 2005 that intelligent design is not science and unconstitutionally established religion in a public school science class.