Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Even More Pleadings

This concerns the case of David Coppedge, the creationist who claims he was wrongfully demoted (and later fired) by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He used to work as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines — which was recently moved here.

We’ve been posting about a flurry of pre-trial motions filed in the case. You remember that just before the trial was continued to 07 March, JPL-Caltech had filed several “motions in limine” requesting the judge to rule that certain testimony, evidence, and arguments be excluded from the trial, about which we first posted here: David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Motions, and here: More Pre-Trial Motions. That was followed by a discussion of Coppedge’s responses along with JPL’s response to a strange motion by Coppedge (Colliding Worldviews), and then More Pre-Trial Action. Most recently we posted Pre-Trial Festival.

There’s a new batch of pleadings posted at the website of our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). They maintain an archive of pleadings in the case: NCSE’s Coppedge archive, and they’re all pdf files. We can’t imagine what all of this activity is costing the parties.

Today we’ll discuss one pleading that Coppedge’s team filed in response to JPL-Caltech’s objections to one of Coppedge’s motions. After that we’ll post about JPL-Caltech’s responses to some recent Coppedge pleadings. Okay, here we go.

First we have Coppedge’s Response to JPL’s objections to Coppedge’s First Motion in Limine to Permit Showing Intelligent Design DVDs to the Jury. You will recall that Coppedge had moved for permission to show his creationist (or intelligent design) material during the trial. JPL-Caltech responded that Coppedge and his team view this case as a means to promote and publicize intelligent design, and that one way they seek to do so is by playing the two DVDs at issue to the jury, regardless of the fact that the witnesses who disciplined Coppedge have little or no knowledge of their contents. Here’s Coppedge’s response to that:

Very simply, JPL seeks to blind jurors from the religious animus animating [sic] employees who felt “harassed” and “bothered” by Coppedge’s perceived religious views — views they believed intelligent design (and the DVDs on intelligent design Coppedge loaned out) touted. JPL’s method of disguising the motives of its employees is to claim that they acted in response to Coppedge’s “manner” — his non-verbal behavior — and not the perceived religious message they believed he was imposing on them.

[...]

What if Coppedge had not been accused of harassment based on his religious views, but instead of sexually harassing [a female employee] based on the perception that the DVDs were obscene? Would the content of the DVDs be relevant in that case?

Brilliant argument! For some factual context, it’s useful to read the written warning that was first given to Coppedge back on 13 April 2009. You can see that on page 7 of this pleading.

Okay, next we have a bunch of pleadings filed by JPL-Caltech responding to Coppedge’s positions on several motions in limine that had been filed by JPL-Caltech. The first is JPL’s Defense of its Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about Viewpoint Discrimination. Recall that Caltech had moved to keep that out of the trial because it’s an ultimate legal question, and Coppedge’s opinion on the matter is improper lay testimony. In response, Coppedge argued that the case is specifically about viewpoint discrimination, and he needed to show the jury how “the powerful control the weaker members of society through the suppression of ideas.”

Responding to that, JPL-Caltech says that they’re a private entity, not a government agency, so legal precedents regarding restrictions on government behavior aren’t applicable. They also say:

Coppedge freely admits this case is not about “that viewpoint discrimination (First Amendment viewpoint discrimination).” … Instead he erroneously suggests that there is another kind of viewpoint discrimination, which he defines as “discrimination based on the suppression of ideas.” … Coppedge cites no authority for this definition, because there is none. He made it up.

Next is JPL’s Defense of its Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about the Hostility Proponents of Intelligent Design Have Experienced. Recall that Caltech had moved to exclude references to (or showing of) the Ben Stein “documentary” Expelled. In response, Coppedge had argued how important that film was, that JPL didn’t even understand it, and that because JPL’s witnesses were biased and untrustworthy, seeing the Stein film was vital for the jury.

JPL-Caltech’s response to that is 208 pages long. It says:

Coppedge has proven yet again that his real focus in this trial is to publicize and promote intelligent design. He is so fixated on showing intelligent design DVDs at trial, despite their complete irrelevance to his legal claims, that he was not content simply to oppose this motion. Rather, he filed a motion in limine for permission to show the DVDs to the jury.

[...]

Because the [JPL] employees did not complain about the DVD’s contents and the DVD’s contents were not considered in the investigation [of complaints by JPL], they are not probative of any issue in this case. The DVDs are also inadmissible hearsay, and properly excluded on multiple grounds … .

The last one we’ll discuss in this post is JPL’s Defense of Its Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument that Coppedge’s Conduct was Justified because of NASA’s or JPL’s Research into the Origin of Life. This one is only 48 pages long. Recall that Coppedge’s cheerleaders have been constantly saying that Coppedge was just trying to be helpful to JPL by offering his creationist material, and his being an advocate of creationism or intelligent design was work-related. JPL-Caltech’s motion said that’s all nonsense because none of that was Coppedge’s job — he was merely a computer technician. Coppedge responded by claiming that he “had no reason to believe that discussions about the origins of the material universe and life on Earth would be off limits at an organization dedicated to exploring those origins.” But when he tried to hand out his DVDs, he was treated like “the target of a restless mob shouting “Kill the beast!” In defense of its motion, JPL-Caltech says:

He [Coppedge] was not a scientist, and he was not paid to study or discuss the origins of life.

[...]

[E]ven if intelligent design were related to Coppedge’s job (it was not) or JPL’s missions (it is not), Coppedge still acted inappropriately by communicating about it in a manner his co-workers found disruptive and doing so during work hours rather than during breaks or on his own time.

And get this: In a footnote on page 3, JPL-Caltech says:

Coppedge’s assertions that he was disciplined because of the content of the DVDs, despite all evidence to the contrary, is simply a further illustration that he wants to turn this trial into an infomercial for intelligent design theory at the behest of his (and his attorney’s) financial backer, the Discovery Institute. [Bold font added by us.]

There are several more pleadings filed by JPL-Caltech, and we’ll get to them in another post.

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3 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Even More Pleadings

  1. Without re-reading all the earlier material, I think that’s the first mention of the Discovery Institute, especially as Coppedges’s financial backer.

    The DI mentioned (I think only once) that Casey Luskin was a consultant to Coppedge’s attorneys (see http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/04/discrimination_lawsuit_filed_a033831.html) but to my knowledge they have not disclosed their monetary connection to the case.

    I don’t think it will affect the case, but it’s nice to see it out in the open.

  2. Ed says: “I think that’s the first mention of the Discovery Institute, especially as Coppedges’s financial backer. ”

    They’ve mentioned them before, but they haven’t made a big deal out of it.

  3. Coppedge cites no authority for this definition, because there is none. He made it up.

    That is the legal version of what we laypeople would call a bitchslap.