The Worst Piece of Creationist Litigation Ever Filed -- NOT Kitzmiller

I’ve posted a few things about Kitzmiller here, which is a fascinating case because it is the most fully-litigated creationism case of recent history, having gone all the way to a bench trial. But there is a case even less well-considered, and that case was Institute for Creation Research Graduate School v. Paredes, et al., filed in US District Court in Texas. The complaint can be read at NCSE’s site, here: https://ncse.ngo/files/pub/legal/icrvparedes/09-04-16_Original_Complaint.pdf

In essence, the ICR contended that the State of Texas was engaged in unlawful religious discrimination when it denied ICR a certification as an entity authorized to issue academic degrees.

It was a strange claim, and not meritorious. But the really strange bit was the surprising degree of incompetence in its preparation and filing. The complaint is 67 pages long – complaints are supposed to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Suffice it to say that 67 pages, whatever jokes might be made about the word “brief” as used by lawyers, is not that.

The complaint rambles, shakes and shudders its way along through the most extraordinary mix of typefaces and incoherent what-is-it I have ever seen in a federal complaint. It would be polite to say that the wheels have come off. A good mechanic would doubt that it ever had wheels to begin with.

When I was in active practice, the only times we ever saw pleadings like this were cases filed by pro se plaintiffs with a screw loose. In such cases, courts usually are very patient; even a person who is quite insane can have a legitimate claim for relief, and every opportunity must be given to a plaintiff in such a case to bring his complaint to a condition where his claims can be understood sufficiently well to allow the opponent to opppose them and to allow the judge to rule upon them.

Here, however, the complaint was filed by a fellow who has a law degree and ought to know better, one James J.S. Johnson. But he was employed by the ICR, he apparently had no experience in litigation, and he plainly didn’t think he needed any.

Eventually this case was disposed of, by summary judgment. Both sides moved for it, and the State of Texas won.

What’s the point, apart from the hilarious 67-page complaint? Well, as I have said elsewhere, you should always be careful when getting a legal opinion from someone who’s not a lawyer. And for this purpose, you want a lawyer who has relevant experience. If you’re dancing your way into litigation like the Dover Area School Board, you really, really need the advice of a litigator, not the advice of somebody who went to law school once.

Does this apply in other fields? Absolutely! People trying to boost the credibility of ID will refer to Jonathan Wells as a “biologist.” But a man who does no research and instead spends his time writing cranky books is no biologist; the Ph.D makes him a man with a biology degree, just as the J.D. makes someone a person with a law degree, but neither one of them, in itself, means much.

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Read all of this one. It’s where I learned the word “maundering”.

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It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

---- Sam Sparks, United States District Judge, ICR v Paredes

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I remember that ruling. It seemed downright bizarre that Johnson couldn’t even figure out that when the court dismisses your complaint and directs your attention to what must be done to make it conform to the “short and plain statement” requirement, that’s probably a clue that the thing needs more than a bit of trimming.

I do recall once, though, in a similar “dismissal with leave to amend” situation, an opponent who was about this clueless. I had moved to dismiss a complaint in a property boundary dispute for failure of the plaintiff to join indispensable parties. After a rather vigorous argument, the judge granted my motion, dismissing the complaint but (as is normal) granting the plaintiff permission (“leave,” as we say) to file an amended complaint which repaired this defect. On our way out of the courtroom, the opposing counsel asked me whether I would stipulate to allow him to file an amended complaint to make some technical correction or other as to how my client had been named. I told him that I would be willing to allow that, but that I didn’t think he needed my permission, since the judge had dismissed his complaint and he would need to re-file anyhow, so he could just make the change when he did. He said to me, “the judge didn’t dismiss my complaint.”

Now, in Washington State we have a quaint practice: instead of filing the order with the clerk of court, the judge hands it to the winning party, signed, and the winning party walks it down the hall to file it. So I had in my hands my proposed order, signed by the judge, saying, in so many words, that the plaintiff’s complaint was dismissed. I had to ask him one of those questions it’s hard to ask without laughing: “so, despite the fact that I am holding an order in my hand that says ‘plaintiffs’ complaint is DISMISSED,’ the judge didn’t dismiss your complaint?” You could see the picture oh-so-slowly dawning on him.

And this man was a municipal court judge in a small town. I am glad I did not have to practice before this intellectual giant.

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Footnote 18 in the courts’ ruling says it all:

ICRGS has only been denied the right to offer its proposed program as a Master of Science in Science Education degree, because the Board has determined it has not met the Board’s uniform, state-wide standards for offering such a program.

One need not have a legal background nor be a science educator to recognize that whatever ICR’s graduate program was, it wasn’t even beginning to try and achieve the scope of an actual Master of Science in Science Education (even if one ignores the other strange aspects of the program.) Bizarre.

I seem to recall that ICR sidestepped this somehow and is handing out junk degrees despite this loss. Am I mistaken?

I think so. The State of Texas cannot stop ICR from running its programs, and so they are presumably calling the “degree” something that doesn’t run afoul of the regulations.

Looking at their website, it appears that they’ve re-framed some of the creationism degrees as “Christian education” degrees and have also introduced a non-degree “Creationist Worldview Professional Certificate.” Very likely they were able to obtain certification for “Christian education” degrees as the state is unlikely to want to wade into the bog and try to decide what is or is not a proper program in theology.

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Yes. The Texas statute (as I recall) specifically states that the law does not in any way apply to religious education. So it would have been trivially easy for ICR to rename their “degree program” and find some Christian accreditation agency to “certify” a “Christian Education” graduate program.

But while we are on the topic of “higher education” comedy, check out the history of ICR and how Henry Morris created what was basically his own “accreditation association” so that the Institute for Creation Research could proudly declare its status as a fully accredited graduate-level education institution. @Patrick, you will enjoy this one. (Actually, it will make you do a face-palm, considering how much you appreciate the intersection of religion, vested interests, and politics.)

For years now some of us have spun variations on the obvious puns about schools “going off the TRACS” with questionable accreditation designations—such that it gets very hard to “keep TRACS” of them all.

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Funny! And as always, political friends of fundamentalism made it easier.

One should always ask, when facing this sort of thing: accredited BY WHOM? Obviously one doesn’t need to worry about it much when dealing with real educational institutions, but if you’re dealing with fundamentalist schools, for-profit colleges, or trade schools, it’s very important.

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