David Coppedge Decision: A Slight Delay

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.

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20 responses to “David Coppedge Decision: A Slight Delay

  1. Charley Horse

    It shouldn’t have taken the judge months to reach his decision.
    Actually, the facts haven’t changed from the day Coppedge was
    laid off. So, the suit should of been dismissed as frivolous to
    begin with.
    SC…I’ll bet you or most of your readers here could answer all
    60+ items in less than a day. Much less. No need to answer
    with anything more than “unfound” or “not relevant”.

    Freshwater is another similar case. Should never of been accepted
    by the state Supreme Court. But the judges, who happen to be
    a very political conscious bunch of a Republican majority,
    decided to spend the taxpayer’s money to promote their
    own political interests.

  2. Don’t know about the rest, but as for #68, say, “Yes, ID is a religious concept. Get over it.” Cite Kitzmiller. Done.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    The judge ordered JPL’s attorneys to prepare the decision. So if the judge now orders JPL’s attorneys to now prepare the written response to the 68 items submitted to Coppedge, wouldn’t that just run up the legal expenses tab that Coppedge will already have to pay JPL after (pending appeal) the trial?

    I don’t get it. Coppedge will get a hernia toting around all his ID DVDs that he will need to be selling on his publicity tour.

  4. Most of the questions can be answered as being irrelevant to the case. Once it is determined that being reassigned from team lead to another position at the same pay and benefits was not a demotion, and that being included in a general lay-off due to lack of key skills relative to peers is not a wrongful discharge, then questions related to his proselytizing for ID and other religious causes become moot. Even the issues around the warning notice and the complaints by co-workers are not relevant.

    I think Becker and the DI will be disappointed if they are expecting the court to give them ammunition for the cause.

  5. I agree with Charley Horse, the case should have at least been the short format. It shouldn’t have taken months, and the Judge should write his own decision. That’s why the judge makes the big bucks.

  6. Gary: “Don’t know about the rest, but as for #68, say, “Yes, ID is a religious concept. Get over it.” Cite Kitzmiller. Done.”

    True enough, but that might allow Coppedge to claim he is the victim of religious discrimination. (Although it’s not what the DI wants to hear.)

    I’m certainly not a lawyer (not even the armchair variety), but the judge will most likely just say it’s irrelevant to the case. In other words, I agree with Ed.

  7. I have no idea if this would legally fly, but I could write the requested opinion in about ten minutes. Except for issues like #68 on intelligent design, where the court reached no decision, I’d say this for all the others:

    As to issue #___, the Plaintiff had the burden of proof, but the only evidence in Plaintiff’s favor was his own testimony offering his interpretations of conversations and events. If that were the only evidence before the Court, we would find for the Plaintiff on this issue. However, the Defendants presented evidence which contradicted the Plaintiff’s testimony, which the Court, as the sole trier of fact, found to be credible. Accordingly, the Plaintiff having failed to meet his burden of proof, the Court finds for the Defendants on this issue.

  8. This is the standard MO for creationists. It’s wordplay and rhetoric – turtles all the way down.

    When asked what would comprise an explanation of the theory of evolution satisfactory to Michael Behe, he replied that he’d have to see a step-by-step sequence of mutations along with influencing factors, environmental conditions, etc. In other words the only explanation satisfactory to creationist Behe would be a slow-motion, microscopic reply of Earth’s entire history. Sure, he makes a “satisfactory” explanation impossible which is his point. So, the response to Behe is, “Screw you!” That explains why there is a sign on his department that reads: Danger! Troll.

    This, of course, is the official disclaimer:

    The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of “intelligent design.” While we respect Prof. Behe’s right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

    Getting back to Coppers, it would be my guess that he is a tea-party Republican opposed to big government, wasteful spending, bureaucracy and red tape, and true to his colors is the biggest hypocrite around. Look at what he’s doing, wasting everybody’s time. And why? Because his pride was hurt. Boo effing hoo!

  9. SC…I meant to thank you for doing the work finding and
    posting the applicable rules/ laws that guide the court.
    That most likely took a good bit of time and effort on your
    part and it is very much appreciated.

  10. Charley Horse says: “I meant to thank you for doing the work finding and posting the applicable rules”

    It wasn’t that bad. I had to find them or I wouldn’t have had anything to say. Without the rules, that pleading is meaningless.

  11. I think coppers already answered number 68 himself. He claimed people’s opinion if ID as religious descrimination.

    However in truth we all know what this list will be used for. DI will quote mine and cherry pick these minor rulings and claim that they were unfairly attacked by big science.

  12. Number 34 was good, claiming that Margaret, the digital librarian, may have or not discriminated against Coppedge. How could that be in any case, she was a co-worker. How can a co-worker discriminate against someone? All she did was complain to her boss that Coppy was bugging her. That’s discrimination?

    I wonder in how many cases does the judge get a Kitchen Sink document like this thrown at him? Couldn’t the judge haul Becker before the bench and give him a thorough thrashing for such fiddle-faddle?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  13. It’s not clear to me that at this stage of the proceedings Coppedge gets to define the issues on which the judge must provide his reasoning. Just because Coppedge generates a laundry list must the judge address every item on the list?

  14. Doc Bill asks: “Couldn’t the judge haul Becker before the bench and give him a thorough thrashing for such fiddle-faddle?”

    There’s no need for that. Judges talk among themselves. That’s how lawyers’ reputations are made. Meanwhile, the judge will tell JPL’s lawyers to draft the document, and they’ll put something together that they think will stand up on appeal. Coppedge will object, JPL will reply, and then the judge will sign it. The Discoveroids will complain about it forever.

  15. RBH asks: “Just because Coppedge generates a laundry list must the judge address every item on the list?”

    No, but there’s the risk that on appeal, Coppedge will argue that “If only the court had addressed this oh-so-vital issue, the decision would have gone the other way.” So it’s probably safer to deal with all but the most flamingly irrelevant issues (like intelligent design). It’s easy enough to do. All the court has to do is say: “I considered this, but the evidence was against Coppedge.”

  16. I think Ceteris Paribus has it right – this will just create more busy work for JPL’s team, because the judge will ask them for their response.

    Maybe this is a somewhat sneaky attempt by the creationist side to leave open the door for an appeal about whether ID is science. Let’s say the “statement” authors do what most of the posters here think they will do, and respond that most of these issues were not germane to the legal decision. Well, if they do that for statement #68, that means that in an appeal, that issue will be considered unresolved.

  17. FYI William J. Becker’s work has reaped him dividends. He is now being paid by some Christians to fight Santa Monica to allow a Nativity scene.

  18. @DagoodS: And once Becker wins, the devil-worshippers will rush in to erect their Satanic shrines. Very clever of them — let the Christians pay for the legal work, then reap the benefits.

    The same principle applies in attempts to introduce prayer (or other religious beliefs) in public school programs — which religion(s) get to have their prayers recited? Which religion(s) will have their creation account(s) taught?

    Why is it so hard for some people to realize that just because they may happen to be in the majority, they don’t have the right to violate the Constitution? Don’t they see that it protects their rights as well?

  19. I assume the judge expected this, based on the behavior of Coppedge and his attorneys throughout the proceedings, both in and out of court.

    It could be part of the reason for the delay in announcing his decision.

    I wonder if he gave Judge Jones a call.

  20. @RSG:

    exactly right, and the main reason why both my wife and I for the first time in our lives voted mostly for Democrats in this election. I don’t approve of a lot of what the Dems stand for, but I’d rather be poor as a nation and free than rich, but have religious kooks calling the shots. My wife is a very committed Christian, yet even she sees the risk involved when people violate the Constitution. At first it was hard for her to see, but when I turned the tables and said, how would you feel if you lived in a county where the majority were Muslim and they wanted to have Koran readings at school? That got her to see the light.