HARRISBURG - After Alan Bonsell finished his testimony Monday, in which he accused two local newspaper reporters of making up the information that drove the Dover Area School District into a First Amendment lawsuit, Judge John E. Jones III demanded to see a copy of Bonsell's previous sworn statements.
Steve Harvey, the plaintiffs' attorney who had cross-examined the Dover Area school board member, offered to provide a clean copy later in chambers.
"I want it now if you have it," the federal judge said. At the end of the first day of the sixth week of Dover's court battle over intelligent design in U.S. Middle District Court, Jones had some questions.
Bonsell sat quietly on the stand chewing gum and swiveling in his chair as Jones reviewed the man's Jan. 3 deposition in which he denied knowing anyone, besides his father, who had been involved in donating copies of the textbook "Of Pandas and People" to the Dover school district.
After he finished reading, Jones asked Bonsell when he became aware that his father, Donald, was in possession of an $850 check used to purchase copies of the pro-intelligent design textbook.
Bonsell said he had given the check to his father.
Last week, former board member Bill Buckingham testified he handed the check, dated Oct. 4, 2004, to Alan Bonsell and asked him to forward it to Donald Bonsell. Written in the check's memo line were the words: "for Pandas and People books."
"You tell me why you didn't say Mr. Buckingham was involved," a visibly angry Jones said, staring at Bonsell as he read from his deposition.
Bonsell said he misspoke. And then, "That's my fault, your honor."
Bonsell said he didn't think it mattered because Buckingham had not actually donated any of his money. Rather, the money had been collected from members of his church.
But Jones pointed out that Bonsell had said he had never spoken to anybody else about the donations.
The judge also wanted to know why the money needed to be forwarded to his father, why Buckingham couldn't have purchased the books himself.
"I still haven't heard an answer from you," Jones said.
"He said he'd take it off the table," Bonsell said.
"You knew you were under oath?" Jones asked at one point.
Later, outside the courthouse, plaintiffs' attorneys had no comment on Jones' questioning, and Dover's attorney Patrick Gillen had little to say.
"I won't speculate" about the judge's actions, Gillen said. "I'm confident that he's seeking the truth in these proceedings."
Jones' exchange with Bonsell was the second time the judge has intervened in testimony and questioned school board members on his own. On Friday, Jones asked Heather Geesey about her newly acquired recollection that board members at June 2004 meetings were publicly discussing intelligent design, rather than creationism as reported in the media.
In her deposition, Geesey had been unable to recall details about board discussions during the meetings.
Much of Bonsell's testimony echoed Buckingham's from last week.
Buckingham testified about donations from his church. But like Bonsell, Buckingham said initially, in his first deposition on Jan. 3, that he didn't know from where the 60 donated copies came.
Before Bonsell was forced to defend his past recollections, he spent much of his time on the stand accusing the local press, in particular two reporters - Heidi Bernhard-Bubb, a freelance writer with The York Dispatch, and Joe Maldonado, a freelance writer with the York Daily Record/Sunday News - of incorrectly reporting that board members had said "creationism" at the June 2004 board meetings rather than "intelligent design."
Bonsell said the media continues to misrepresent the case and the concept of intelligent design - the idea that life's complexity demands a designer.
Harvey wanted to know why he keeps talking to reporters, since he doesn't feel they are correctly reporting the facts.
Bonsell said because he hoped "some of the truth would get out."
Before Bonsell's testimony Monday, former board member Jane Cleaver had also testified that board members had been talking about intelligent design at the June 2004 board meetings, but the local newspapers reported they were saying creationism.
However, under cross-examination, she said she was unsure if intelligent design had been brought up at meetings in June or later at the July board meeting.
Whether board members were talking about creationism then is important to Dover's First Amendment battle. Attorneys for the 11 parents suing the district over the mention of intelligent design in biology class say board members were motivated by religious beliefs, one of the prongs used by the courts to determine whether an action violates the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state.
At the Jan. 3 depositions, board members Bonsell, Buckingham, Harkins and Supt. Nilsen all said they did not remember other board members talking about creationism at the June 2004 meetings.
Cleaver, like Bonsell, blamed the reporters, particularly Maldonado, for making up their stories.
"Joe doesn't know how to tell the truth," Cleaver said. "Joe only knows how tell a lie."
Last week, both Maldonado and Bernhard-Bubb testified to the accuracy of their articles. They said no board members ever requested a correction from articles about the meetings.
AT A GLANCE
Excerpts from Alan Bonsell's Jan. 3 deposition:
Plaintiffs attorney Eric Rothschild: Was the first time you became aware of any possible donation when you (sic) father told you he intended to do it?
Dover school board member Alan Bonsell: Well, he wasn't - I mean as far as I know, he wasn't the only person.
Rothschild: You don't know who the other people are?
Bonsell: I don't know who the other people are.
Rothschild: You have never spoken to anybody else who was involved with the donation?
Bonsell: I don't know the other people.
Rothschild: The only person you could have spoken to about the books was your father; correct?
Bonsell: Yes. As far as donating the books, I guess they offered to pay for the books. And they got the books and gave them to the School District.