Dover ID bill: $1M
Dover ID bill: $1M
By LAURI LEBO and MICHELLE STARR, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 2/22/06
The Dover Area school board voted Tuesday night to pay $1 million in legal fees to the attorneys that successfully sued the district over its intelligent-design policy.

In addition, each of the 11 plaintiffs will also receive $1 in nominal damages.

Eight of the nine board members voted in favor while Bryan Rehm, who is also a plaintiff, abstained.

The vote somewhat puts an end to one of the district's most contentious chapters, and, as plaintiff Cyndi Sneath said "lets us catch our breath and move on."

After board members voted, Beth Eveland, one of the parents who sued the district, told the board that she and other plaintiffs at the meeting considered it a fair offer.

However, she said they were dismayed that the taxpayers and children were left with the bill and believed the old board members should be held accountable. The smallest amount of accountability is an apology, she said.

"It's the end of the legal drama, but there is no closure," she said.

Heather Geesey, the only remaining member from the previous board, said after the meeting that she took offense to Eveland's remarks.

"I don't think I have anything to apologize for," she said.

Former board member Ronald Short also isn't planning to apologize.

"I don't have anything to apologize for," Short said. "I believe in what the board did before."

The $1 million figure was the result of an agreement worked out between plaintiffs' attorneys and the district's solicitor. In exchange, the board agrees it will not appeal.

As part of U.S. Judge John E. Jones III's decision, in which he ruled Dover's intelligent-design policy unconstitutional, plaintiffs' attorneys were permitted to recoup legal fees and expenses.

Even though they have agreed on the settlement, Eric Rothschild, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said lawyers will request an order in court entitling the plaintiffs to more than $2 million in costs.

Steve Russell, the district's solicitor, said the initial bill had been $2.5 million before negotiations began.

Plaintiffs' attorneys wanted to make sure that other school districts pondering whether to pursue a religious agenda will think twice, Rothschild said. "We think it's important that the public record will reflect how much it costs to stop an unconstitutional action," he said. "Still, we also recognize that this is a small school district"

Joel Leib, a plaintiff, said he believed the plaintiffs' attorneys did everything they could to accommodate district residents and they are not responsible for bringing this lawsuit because they weren't the ones who put the case in motion.

Bryan Rehm said, "I think it's the best outcome under the circumstances, but I think it's unfortunate that we have to foot the bill.

District officials should be able to incorporate the bill into next year's budget and don't expect to borrow money.

Nilsen said he doesn't know if raising taxes is a possibility.

Board member Judy McIlvaine, said, "We'll find it. We're finding it. We don't want to raise taxes."

Christy Rehm, a plaintiff and Bryan's wife, said she'd like to see some of the former board members follow through with the idea to pay the bill with fundraisers.

Approximately $250,000 will go directly to recovering out-of-pocket expenses, Rothschild said, and will be divided among American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Pepper Hamilton.

The rest will go toward the ACLU and Americans United.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based pro-intelligent design organization, has criticized civil liberties' groups of using threats of lawsuits to bully school districts.

But Rothschild said, "The threat of a lawsuit is real when the Constitution is violated. It's important to recognize here with this case, the substantial expense to bring and win this lawsuit."