You know about the trial court’s decision in the David Coppedge case. That’s the suit filed by 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. As you recall, he used to work as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is part of Caltech. He also maintains a creationist website:Creation-Evolution Headlines — which was recently moved here.
On 31 October the court asked JPL’s lawyers to write up a final order in JPL’s favor, but that apparently hasn’t been completed yet. Meanwhile, there’s been a new development which you can see at the archive maintained by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), located here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. The latest pleading is Plaintiff’s Request for Statement of Decision. It starts out saying:
Plaintiff David Coppedge (“Coppedge”) requests a Statement of Decision be prepared and filed in this matter on the following issues that were contested at trial:
Following that — for twelve pages — is a list of 68 specific items to be ruled on, for example:
1. The factual and legal basis for the Court’s finding (assuming the Court has so found) that Plaintiff Coppedge was not discriminated against by Defendant California Institute of Technology/Jet Prpulsion Laboratory (“JPL”) in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).
It goes on and on, page after page, finally ending with this:
68. The factual and legal basis for the Court’s finding (assuming the Court has so found) that intelligent design is or is not a religious concept.
Upon seeing this, our first reaction was that Coppedge is throwing a tantrum and demanding that the court needlessly jump through hoops. After all, the court could (we thought) simply rule that from the totality of the evidence, it finds for the defendants on all counts. Period.
That was our first thought. But then we did some looking around. We have no expertise on what goes on in California courts, but we know that courts have rules of procedure, so after finding them and searching for “Statement of Decision” we found Section 632 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure, which says, with emphasis supplied by us:
In superior courts, upon the trial of a question of fact by the court, written findings of fact and conclusions of law shall not be required.
Aha! That’s what we thought. But wait — the rule continues. Here’s the next sentence:
The court shall issue a statement of decision explaining the factual and legal basis for its decision as to each of the principal controverted issues at trial upon the request of any party appearing at the trial.
So, although we repeat that we have no expertise here, it appears that Coppedge has the right to do what he’s doing and insist that the judge should jump through hoops. The rule goes on to say:
The request for a statement of decision shall specify those controverted issues as to which the party is requesting a statement of decision. After a party has requested the statement, any party may make proposals as to the content of the statement of decision.
That means there’s going to be a lot of back and forth in the drafting of the judge’s final order. But what if the judge doesn’t issue an order as exquisitely detailed as the one Coppedge is demanding? That’s covered in Section 634 at the same link we provided above:
When a statement of decision does not resolve a controverted issue … it shall not be inferred on appeal … that the trial court decided in favor of the prevailing party as to those facts or on that issue.
In other words, if the court doesn’t explain its ruling on each of Coppedge’s 68 issues, then an appellate court could decide that JPL didn’t prevail on the issues not explained. That may or may not be fatal to the court’s decision — depending on the issue. For example, consider Coppedge’s last issue, number 68 on his list. We don’t know whether the judge made any findings about the status of intelligent design as a religious concept. If he didn’t, it may not matter, because JPL claims that intelligent design wasn’t a factor in its employment decisions, and it had other justifications for the actions it took.
Although Coppedge and his supporters desperately wanted this case to be about intelligent design, it never really was, and perhaps the judge will recognize that in his final order. We shall see.
After we wrote all that, we noticed that Coppedge’s motion mentions Rule 3.1590(d) of the California Rules of Court. That’s a whole separate thing, and we don’t know its relationship to the Code of Civil Procedure which we just discussed, but we searched for it and found it here.
Rule 3.1590 requires the judge to first announce his tentative decision (which he did) and subsection “d” says that a party can do what Coppedge is doing here — request a statement of decision. That request has to be made within 10 days of the decision’s announcement (which in this case was on Halloween) but Coppedge’s pleading is dated 08 November so it appears to be timely. Subsection “f” says the court has 30 days to comply, or it can order another party to prepare such a statement in 30 days. The rule goes on to say there can also be objections to what’s been prepared, and hearings on those objections, etc.
So there you are. All we know at this point is that it’s likely to take a bit of time for the order to be completed.
Also, after seeing what JPL is going through, we know one other thing: If we were running a business where an employee — creationist or otherwise — needed to be fired, we’d probably shut the joint down and move the whole operation to China. We’re all for fairness and due process, but our armchair peek into the system (at least in this case) forces us to conclude that a country which allows this kind of nightmare doesn’t deserve to have any business within its borders.
Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.