David Coppedge Case — Appeal or No Appeal?

We know you’ve been wondering about the suit brought 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. Coppedge 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.

The last time we wrote about actual court proceedings was back in mid-January: David Coppedge Trial: Final Order Issued. Over the next day or two there were some news stories about it, and a couple of Discoveroid posts, but since then there’s been nothing. Virtually the last thing we saw was in a newspaper that quoted Coppedge’s lawyer, William Becker, bravely saying:

“By overruling our objections without giving a reason, the judge has all but handed us a victory on appeal.”

It’s unsatisfying when things that were once hot news just seem to dribble away into nothingness. The Coppedge team used to be in the press all the time, but now all we hear is silence. We want answers! What’s going on? Will there be an appeal or not? Why all the mystery?

Ah, but look! When all seems lost, your Curmudgeon boldly (and foolishly) strides into this news vacuum. This is a good way for a blogger to embarrass himself, but that’s okay — we’ve done it before. We admit that we’re just thrashing around. So with that caveat, here we go:

According to information at the clerk’s office at the Los Angeles Superior Court — that’s where the trial was held — the judgment on the court’s decision was filed on 15 January 2013. Assuming that’s the date of the final judgment, what’s the time limit for Coppedge to file an appeal?

We have no expertise on what goes on in California courts, and it’s pure folly for us to try to figure this stuff out by ourselves, but we looked for the Appellate Rules. Reading them as well as we can, we see that Rule 8.104. Time to appeal says:

(1) Unless a statute or rule 8.108 provides otherwise, a notice of appeal must be filed on or before the earliest of:

(A) 60 days after the superior court clerk serves on the party filing the notice of appeal a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or a file-stamped copy of the judgment, showing the date either was served;

(B) 60 days after the party filing the notice of appeal serves or is served by a party with a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or a file-stamped copy of the judgment, accompanied by proof of service; or

(C) 180 days after entry of judgment.

This is tricky stuff. We looked at Rule 8.108. Extending the time to appeal which may extend the time limits. The clock doesn’t start running until the trial court has disposed of stuff like motions for a new trial. We’re not aware of anything like that, so in what follows we’ll assume that the clock started running without regarded to rule 8.108.

If the appeal had to be started 60 days after 15 January (the date of the decision), then the time ran out a week ago. But the rule we just cited says the appeal time starts to run from the “Notice of Entry” — whatever that is. It’s obviously something specific, so we went looking.

We went to the archive maintained by NCSE to see if there had been a “Notice of Entry.” Yes, we found it. Here it is: Statement of Decision/Notice of Entry of Order. We assume that’s the pleading that starts the appellate clock running. It’s dated 16 January 2013. Okay, we’ve made some progress — the clock started running on the 16th, not the 15th. Isn’t this fun?

Now we’ll go to a calendar and count off 60 days. What we come up with is that 17 March was the 60th day, but that was a Sunday. We think the notice of appeal could have been filed the next day, 18 March. That was a week ago. Has anybody heard anything about any appeal? We haven’t, and we’ve been looking.

Anyway, knowing how imperfect our analysis must be, we read the Rules a bit more. Rule 8.100. Filing the appeal says:

(a) Notice of appeal

(1) To appeal from a superior court judgment or an appealable order of a superior court, other than in a limited civil case, an appellant must serve and file a notice of appeal in that superior court. The appellant or the appellant’s attorney must sign the notice.

(2) The notice of appeal must be liberally construed. The notice is sufficient if it identifies the particular judgment or order being appealed. The notice need not specify the court to which the appeal is taken; the appeal will be treated as taken to the Court of Appeal for the district in which the superior court is located.

(3) Failure to serve the notice of appeal neither prevents its filing nor affects its validity, but the appellant may be required to remedy the failure.

Okay, what we come up with is this: If there’s going to be an appeal, some very specific things need to happen within a very specific time frame. A “notice of appeal” should be filed in the trial court on or before 60 days after “Notice of Entry” of judgment is “served” on the appealing party. We know the “Notice of Entry” was filed on 16 January, but we don’t really know when it was served on Becker. What does that mean, anyway? Is it when the clerk’s office sends it to him, or when he actually receives it? What if it’s been lost in the mail all this time?

We have a lot of questions, but we need to wrap this up somehow. Until we have something more authoritative than our wild and uninformed speculations, this is the best we can do: It seems to us that the deadline for filing a notice of appeal has come and gone, and the clerk’s office doesn’t indicate that such a notice was filed. So it’s over. End of story.

But there are several reasons why we’re almost certain to be wrong about that. Maybe we’re looking at the wrong rules, or even if we found the right rules, maybe we’re reading them incorrectly. Maybe we’ve got the date of the “Notice of Entry” of the judgment wrong, or maybe we’re right about that but the clock didn’t start ticking then because that’s not when it was “served” on Becker. Or maybe the clock didn’t start ticking because there are still post-trial motions pending that will extend the time for starting an appeal. Or maybe the notice of appeal has already been filed but the clerk’s office is behind in updating their website. Or maybe there never was going to be any appeal.

Anyway, whatever happens (or doesn’t happen), this post is a good illustration of why a blogger should be aware of his limitations. In our case, we’re very much aware, but we stepped over the line anyway. If you have better information about this than we do — and that’s not a difficult standard to meet — please let us know what’s going on.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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3 responses to “David Coppedge Case — Appeal or No Appeal?

  1. You obviously had too much time on your hands today :-)

  2. An appeal would have some entertainment value. I suspect Coppedge will call it a day. Being a creationist martyr can be fun and profitable, he just needs to fight the right venue and fund raising scheme. It is time for Coppedge to move into the next phase of his life.

  3. I would think we would know an appeal has been filed because the Discoveroids would be crowing about it—not from some court docket entry. The only value Coppedge’s case ever had was from public relations—not from any legal standpoint. Therefore, if one was to appeal it would be for advertisement’s sake.