Dispatches from the Creation Wars

New Judge Jones Interview

There is a new interview with Judge Jones in the July/August edition of the Pennsylvania Lawyer. The article is not available online, but I wanted to share some of the more interesting bits. As he did at the close of the trial and many times since, he offered a great deal of praise to the attorneys, particularly from the plaintiffs team:

In this case, however, it wasn’t simply a matter of everyone just doing their jobs. In Jones’ view, the lawyers performed exceedingly well.

“I think that some of the cross-examination was absolutely fabulous,” said Jones. “It will endure, and I think it will be excerpted for advocacy classes. … I would say, in particular, Eric Rothschild’s cross-examination of Professor [Michael] Behe — the intelligent design proponent — that might be as good a cross-examination of an expert witness as I have ever seen. It was textbook.”

That it was. If you want to read it, it begins here. I said at the time that it was one of the most devestating cross examinations I had ever seen. Aside from the testimony of Barbara Forrest, I thought that the Behe cross was the single most important turning point in the trial. It was during that cross that it was established, beyond a doubt, that ID is primarily an argument from ignorance. Behe continuing to assist that the scientific literature contains nothing to explain the evolution of the immune system even after admitting that he had not read an enormous portion of that literature could not have looked worse.

And his admission that the paper he authored with Snoke was essentially rigged against evolution by the application of wildly unreallistic paramaters for the simulation and still concluded that the allegedly IC binding site could have evolved in a relatively short period of time was probably even more devestating. I also thought his comment about the interaction with his fellow judges on the circuit was fascinating:

“They would check on me from time to time because they heard things about the trial and understood what I was going through,” Jones said with a grin. “Their questions to me were more like, ‘How are you handling it? Are you holding up all right?’ I would say they enjoyed [the trial] vicariously. … You know, we’re no different than any other group. There was often some kind of judges’ chambers chatter, like ‘Wait till you hear what happened to me today.’ You could have a couple of UPS drivers having the same type of conversation!”

I think this is interesting because it reminds us that judges are human beings. Judge Jones talks in the interview about how surreal it was to show up at the courtroom the day the trial opened and find satellite trucks surrounding the building, and the courtroom filled with media. One of the shameful aspects of the ID crowd’s response to his ruling has been that they take any statement from him about the obvious magnitude of the trial and spin that to mean that he was starstruck and was just in the case for the celebrity he would get out of it.

In fact, I think the interviews that he has done on the subject since then have shown quite well both his humanity and his professionalism. He doesn’t come across like a glory hound, he comes across as a regular guy who grasps the importance of the trial, but didn’t let that importance get in the way of doing his job. He presided over the trial with fairness and a sense of humor, offering both sides every opportunity to make their arguments in full, and he has viewed the aftermath of the trial as an opportunity to educate the public on how such decisions are reached. And one of the things he has done is puncture the empty rhetoric about “activist judges”:

Somewhat less heartening is having your carefully wrought 139-page opinion dismissed as the work of an “activist judge,” even when you expect it. Jones went so far as to include a reference to the term in his conclusion, writing: “Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy.”

Jones says he has little patience for the activist judge label. “An activist judge is a judge whose decision you disagree with — I don’t think it articulates any more than that,” he said.

“I think what’s happening is the public, to a great degree, has been dumbed down and led to believe — and it’s not just the public, it’s the media and even people who are in the political realm — that a judge, in this case [one] with Republican bona fides, is going to rule in a certain way. That completely and entirely overlooks the proper role of judges in cases such as this, in my opinion. I think that ‘judicial activist’ tag is an unfortunate example of why we need a bit of a civics lesson about the role of the judiciary.”

And he has taken advantage of that opportunity and helped to teach that civics lesson to the public. It’s the same lesson I’ve been teaching for 3 years on this blog, that the phrase “activist judges” is an empty catchphrase that only means “judges I disagree with” and nothing more. I hope this article is made available on the web somewhere to read in full. I think you get a real sense of the decency and humanity of Judge Jones, a decency that has sadly been attacked viciously by those who disagreed with his ruling.


  1. #1 Kenneth Fair
    July 21, 2006

    I’ve read opinion and most of the trial transcript in this case and I fully agree with both Judge Jones about the lawyers and with you about Judge Jones. I was extremely impressed by the work done by the lawyers for both sides; I thought they did an excellent job of condensing voluminous and difficult factual material into digestible points. Both sides argued their cases about as ably as I could imagine. And Judge Jones did precisely what a judge should do: he allowed both sides to fully present their case without losing control of the courtroom, then fully considered the evidence and reached a careful, deliberate verdict based on all the evidence presented and the applicable law.

    I’m glad to see that Judge Jones is continuing to use Kitzmiller as a “teaching moment.” He’s absolutely right that the public needs a better understanding of what judges do.

  2. #2 Don Baccus
    July 21, 2006

    The Rothchild’s cross-examination of Behe was not only devastatingly effective but in places absolutely hilarious, in particular when he came up against Behe’s attempts to deflect questions by raising The Big Bang.

    If anyone reading here hasn’t read the transcript of the cross-examination because they think it might be a long, tedious, lawyerly read, check it out. If you love science, you’ll love the transcript.

  3. #3 Mark Perakh
    July 21, 2006

    Many of the points referred to in Ed Brayton’s post have also been mentioned by Judge Jones in his speech to the Anti-Defamation League on February 10, 2006. The text of that speech is available online at Talk Reason (see http://www.talkreason.org/articles/speech.cfm )

  4. #4 386sx
    July 21, 2006


    The Firing Line 1997 Creation-Evolution Debate

    Michael Ruse: So design means a designer. Are we talking about God now?

    Michael J. Behe: Well, most people think so. I think so. But I want to leave it open, and not just because I’m being coy.

    Then later…

    Michael Ruse: But is this designer responsible when things go wrong? Or for parasites, these complex parasites?

    Michael J. Behe: Well, that’s the “argument from evil” — that is, bad things happen to good people, and it’s been discussed in religious literature for many many years, going back to the Book of Job —

    And now, almost ten years later, after all those brilliant critiques from people he pretends he never reads (e.g. pandasthumb.org) — and he still won’t get the lead out.

  5. #5 FishyFred
    July 21, 2006

    “I think what’s happening is the public, to a great degree, has been dumbed down and led to believe — and it’s not just the public, it’s the media and even people who are in the political realm — that a judge, in this case [one] with Republican bona fides, is going to rule in a certain way.”

    Perhaps that statement was prompted by DaveScot’s ridiculous comment on that topic? That’s the first thing I thought of when I read that.

    Let’s see it one more time.

    Judge John E. Jones on the other hand is a good old boy brought up through the conservative ranks. He was state attorney for D.A.R.E, an Assistant Scout Master with extensively involved with local and national Boy Scouts of America, political buddy of Governor Tom Ridge (who in turn is deep in George W. Bush’s circle of power), and finally was appointed by GW hisself. Senator Rick Santorum is a Pennsylvanian in the same circles (author of the “Santorum Language” that encourages schools to teach the controversy) and last but far from least, George W. Bush hisself drove a stake in the ground saying teach the controversy. Unless Judge Jones wants to cut his career off at the knees he isn’t going to rule against the wishes of his political allies. Of course the ACLU will appeal. This won’t be over until it gets to the Supreme Court. But now we own that too.

  6. #6 truth machine
    July 21, 2006

    Proofreading? The first two appear on PandasThumb’s front page.

    devestate -> devastate
    assist -> assert
    unreallistic -> unrealistic
    paramaters -> parameters
    devestating -> devastating

  7. #7 Christensen
    July 21, 2006

    Outstanding lawyers, eh?

    Matthew Chapman, (billed as a Darwin descendant)wrote an article in the February Harpers in which he pointed out that the lead counsel for the defense didn’t even SHOW UP for days at a time.

    He thought the second chair was unprepared.

    Look at the transcript; most of the praise for the cross examinations was for the PLAINTIFFS…as for the defense cross of Barbara Forrest, who are you kidding here?

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    July 21, 2006

    Wow, congratulations truthmachine. You’ve discovered that people make typos (especially when they write something on their way out the door).

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    July 21, 2006

    I think the judge is being polite to praise the defense team alongside the plaintiffs team. There’s absolutely no doubt to anyone who watched the trial which team was better prepared and more competent. In terms of legal talent, it was the most lopsided case since the OJ trial.

  10. #10 Don Baccus
    July 22, 2006

    Along with being polite, Judge Jones may be trying to undermine the ID’ers argument that the only reason the plaintiffs won is that the defense team was incompetent.

    Considering the fact that they were holding a hand without as much as a pair of deuces (just a handful of dunces), the defense team did about as well as one could expect, really. Yeah, the plaintiffs did a better job, but they didn’t have to deal with their own witnesses lying on the stand, etc etc.

  11. #11 Stauffenberg
    July 22, 2006

    Don, you are quite right that Jones seems to be trying to undermine the IDers argument the the defense was incompetent.

    But what Jones can’t hide is that the Lead counsel for the defense didn’t show up for days at a time. Christensen pointed that out above.

    And their cross examination of Barbara Forrest was a joke!

  12. #12 slpage
    July 22, 2006

    So, it was bad lawyerin’ that lost DOver? Is that what is being implied?

  13. #13 Don Baccus
    July 22, 2006

    Yes, that’s what the ID crowd has implied, incompetence by the defense and an “activist commie lib’rl judge”.

    If you read the actual opinion, you’ll see that the claim is bullshit. Plaintiffs had overwhelming evidence on their side. No amount of clever lawyering by the defense was going to overcome the facts in this case.

  14. #14 John
    August 1, 2006

    If lawyers could overcome vivid evidences why do we need court at all? Where would be justice then?

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