WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) – Leading a parade of celebrity witnesses who claimed they were stiffed by a speakers bureau, Andy Rooney began his testimony Monday by questioning the wording of the oath to tell the truth, then fenced with a federal judge about who got to ask the questions.

“No, no, no, Mr. Rooney,” said Judge Colleen McMahon, her head in her hands as he tried to interrogate a defense lawyer. “The first rule is the witness never gets to ask any questions … even if he’s a journalist.”

The CBS newsman was the first witness in the fraud trial of Alan Walker, 67, who ran the Program Corp. of America, a White Plains firm that matched speakers with events. Rooney testified that Walker owes him about $10,000 from a 2003 speech he gave at Indiana State University.

Rooney was followed to the witness stand by Robert Ballard, the undersea explorer who found the wreck of the Titanic; Loretta Long, who plays Susan on “Sesame Street”; and retired astronaut Scott Carpenter, each claiming they are owed thousands of dollars. Testimony is expected later this week from former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, retired basketball star Magic Johnson, poet Nikki Giovanni and many others.

Rooney, 86, entered the courtroom muttering, and when the clerk asked him to swear to tell “nothing but the truth, so help you God,” Rooney balked.

“I don’t know about God,” he said, taking the witness chair.

Rooney said he signed a contract with Walker for $20,000 plus expenses, then gave the speech.

“I’m not the greatest speaker in the world, but they seemed to like it,” he said.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t paid. He made several calls to Walker without reaching him – “He was always in the Middle East or someplace” – then complained to the Better Business Bureau, he said. When a check for $2,500 arrived, he sent it back as “unacceptable.”

Rooney testified that he began to think the episode “might make a piece for me for “60 Minutes,”‘ so he took a camera crew with him to Walker’s office and home, but failed to find him.

When defense lawyer Kerry Lawrence asked Rooney how he found Walker’s home address, Rooney said he didn’t remember, but, “As an old reporter, we have a few secrets, and the first thing is we try the phone book.”

Lawrence tried to suggest that Rooney was “tapping resources at CBS” for a personal cause, but Rooney insisted he considered it a news story. He said he had written about it once for his syndicated newspaper column.

When Lawrence asked if his problem with Walker ever became personal, he said, “I became irritated with Mr. Walker, yes.”

After the “60 Minutes” visit to Walker’s home, a check for $10,000 arrived, and Rooney cashed it.

“I thought it was probably all I was going to get,” he said.

During the cross-examination, Lawrence handed Rooney a document that apparently showed he had dealt with Walker once before, in 1983. The lawyer asked Rooney to read it to himself.

“You want me to read that and not say anything about it?” Rooney asked.

“Yes,” Lawrence said.

“Well, I’d like to say something about it. … I have to ask a question.”

The judge tried to warn him, but Rooney went ahead anyway and said, “I’m asking you who this is from,” prompting the judge’s lecture.

Like Rooney, the other witnesses testified about ignored messages, false promises. and partial payments. Some received checks that bounced. Long said the pursuit of Walker “got to feel like a summer job” before she turned it over to a lawyer.

Outside court, Rooney said he doesn’t expect to get any more of the money allegedly owed him.

“I’m usually embarrassed to get that much for speaking, but still, he got $30,000 and only gave me $10,000.”

Asked if he thought prison would be appropriate for Walker, Rooney said, “I’m against the death penalty.”

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