Damages paid to 11 parents whose rights were violated in the Dover Area School District: $1 each.
A sense of closure: Priceless.
The Dover Area School Board voted last night to pay $1,000,011 in legal fees and damages for parents who successfully sued the district for teaching intelligent design in ninth-grade biology classes.
The district -- ultimately, its taxpayers -- must pay the fees because a federal judge ruled that the policy to require mentioning intelligent design was religiously motivated and violated the Constitution.
Firm cut its bill: Legal fees for thousands of hours spent preparing the case for federal court totaled more than $2 million, but a law firm that represented the parents agreed not to charge for those hours. The Pepper Hamilton law firm, which had at least three attorneys and several legal assistants working almost full time on the case, agreed to charge only for money it paid out during the precedent-setting lawsuit.
The legal fees include costs for attorneys and other workers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which
also represented the parents.
The school district must pay the fees before Aug. 31, after its budget for the 2006-2007 school year
School board president Bernadette Reinking said school board members have just begun the budgeting process, and it's not clear whether taxes will have to be raised, or by how much.
"I think that Pepper Hamilton was very gracious," she said after last night's board meeting.
She said the legal fees could have been twice as costly if the firm hadn't compromised so much.
Pepper Hamilton attorney Eric Rothschild, who handled much of the case, said yesterday that court records will show the parents' attorneys were entitled to more than $2 million, though they will accept less than half that amount.
Cost a deterrent: He said the higher amount "is meant as a deterrent to other government actors who might consider violating the Constitution by teaching religious views in science class."
But Pepper Hamilton is accepting the lesser amount in recognition of the small size of the school district, he said.
The firm was also more willing to compromise because the school board that voted for the policy was voted out of office and a new school board is "having the bill placed in their laps."
Rothschild said the attorneys' time spent -- which included taking more than 40 depositions and reviewing expert scientific witness reports -- would have been significantly less if the former school board had given "straight answers" at the outset of the case.
U.S. Middle District Court Judge John E. Jones said in his decision that some former school board members lied in their depositions.
The former school board was defended free by the Thomas More Law Center, a firm that, according to its Web site, defends the rights of Christians.
But because the district lost the lawsuit, it was legally required to pay legal fees and damages to the parents.
Could have been avoided: Richard Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the parents' attorneys gave the former school board the opportunity to rescind its policy -- and not have to pay legal fees -- right after the lawsuit was filed in 2004, but the board refused.
"What makes you so mad is that this never needed to happen," said plaintiff Barrie Callahan after last night's vote. "They (the former board members) were warned time and again."
Like other plaintiffs, Callahan is a taxpayer in the school district.
"It's painful," she said. "But I think Dover got off pretty easy."
Katskee said he spent about 1,000 hours of his 2,000-hour work year on Dover's case last year. And that doesn't include other people in his office who worked on the case, he said.
He said the damages paid to the parents are "just a legal signifier that the plaintiffs' rights have been violated."
Some of the plaintiffs said they don't plan to cash the $1 check, but they'll probably frame it.
"This was never about the money," said plaintiff Cyndi Sneath.
The lawsuit was about standing up for what's right, she said. Now, she said, the school district "is left with this financial burden because of an irresponsible few."
Call for apology: She said the former school board should show remorse.
"Two words. 'I'm sorry.' That's what will bring closure to this issue."
Representing Sneath and other parents who were plaintiffs, Beth Eveland thanked the school board for the vote and said there will be no closure until the former board members apologize for "purposefully" violating people's rights.
"The smallest measure of accountability is for the former board members to make a formal public apology to the community of Dover," Eveland said. "What a better way to set an example for the children of Dover by showing accountability for your actions."
The board's vote was unanimous with one abstention; school board member Bryan Rehm was also a plaintiff in the case.
Heather Geesey, the only remaining member of the board that voted to approve the intelligent design policy, voted to accept the payment agreement.
"One million is better than 2.5," she said.
Geesey said she had hoped that the ACLU and Americans United would have followed Pepper Hamilton's lead by not charging for their time.
Calls request rude: She said Eveland's request for an apology was "rude" because the board has a policy against disparaging board members.
"I don't think I have anything to apologize for," she said.
Other former board members -- Geesey's former colleagues -- did not respond to requests for comment.
The former board members discussed holding fund-raisers, such as a bake sale, to raise money for the legal fees.
Geesey said that responsibility is now on the current board, which has not discussed fund-raisers.
The school district's business manager, Belinda Wallen, said the school district is not looking to borrow money to pay the legal fees.
She said the school district may use some of its $2 million fund balance to pay the fees.
The payment agreement also includes a provision stating that the school board agrees not to appeal the judge's decision against the school district. The school board has already voted against pursuing an appeal.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5434 or ckauffman@yorkdis patch.com.