David Coppedge vs. JPL: Strange Silence

FIRST, the obligatory background information — most of you can skip the following three indented paragraphs:

This is about a suit by a creationist, David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He works for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines.

This is a big case for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). They’re trying to establish some new kind constitutional right — an employee’s “freedom to promote creationism” in the workplace. One of their top legal talents, Discoveroid Casey Luskin, is advising the lawyer for Coppedge — that’s William J. Becker, Jr., who seems to be mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer.

To promote the issue, the Discoveroids are waging a public relations campaign which we described here: The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy. They’ve set up a page devoted to this case: Background on David Coppedge and the Lawsuit Against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Our last post about this was here Discovery Institute: Crazed over Coppedge, more than three weeks ago, and there hasn’t been any news since. Considering the furious public relations activity at the start of this case, the recent lack of news is very peculiar, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

If you visit the Discoveroids’ page dedicated to this case, to which we linked above, you’ll see that they haven’t posted any court activity other then the Coppedge complaint. That was filed in court on 14 April, nearly six weeks ago. Assuming that the complaint was served on at least one of the defendants shortly thereafter, that defendant should have filed something in court — possibly a motion to dismiss the complaint. Any defendant, having been served, needs to file something, or else he risks having judgment entered against him by default. So why doesn’t the Discoveroids’ page show anything except the complaint?

We previously posted that you can see the court documents in the Coppedge case if you register and pay a small fee to the court clerks here: Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. At the box for “Case Number” you need to enter BC435600. We haven’t registered there and we don’t yet plan to. But some minimal information is available for free — such as the names of the parties and their lawyers. It also gives you a list of what documents have been filed, what proceedings have been held, and what future hearings have been scheduled. There’s no fee or registration required for that. So what do we learn at the court’s website?

This is a chronological list of the documents filed and the proceedings held. The last item is listed under “Future Hearings”:

• 04/14/2010 Complaint

• 04/15/2010 Declaration, Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

• 05/12/2010 in Department 41, Ronald M. Sohigian, Presiding. Affidavit of Prejudice – Granted

• 05/20/2010 at 04:00 pm in Department 1, ELIHU M. BERLE, Presiding. Order Re: Reassignment of Case – Transferred to different departmnt

• 05/25/2010 Notice-Case Management Conference, Filed by Clerk

• 06/24/2010 at 09:00 am in department 71 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Conference-Case Management

Assuming the court clerks are current in updating their website, that’s the whole case so far. None of the defendants has yet filed anything, and we don’t even know who their lawyers are. Maybe Coppedge and his lawyer, William J. Becker, haven’t yet had any defendants served, but that’s unlikely. We assume they’ve all been served by now.

The defendants’ failure to file anything is probably because everyone is operating under a “standstill agreement” while negotiations are underway. Such things happen, because it’s sometimes it’s easier to negotiate before all the papers start flying — especially if everyone involved thinks he already knows everything about the case.

As for the few things that have happened according to the court’s information, it’s likely that the judge to whom the case was assigned looked at the latest printout of his new cases and realized that he had some kind of conflict with this one. Perhaps he or a member of his family has a connection with Caltech or JPL, so the case got reassigned to another judge. That’s routine stuff.

The only curious item is the 25 May notice of a case management conference which is scheduled for 24 June. That sort of thing normally takes place later in a case, if there are problems. Maybe the judge needs to knock heads because the attorneys aren’t being cooperative about discovery, or some scheduling problems may exist. It seems early in the game for that sort of thing, because none of the defendants has yet made an appearance. Maybe it’s some kind of California practice that’s strictly internal with the judges as they adjust their caseloads — but if so, why the notice? We haven’t bothered to look at the documents and there’s no point in guessing what this conference means, but it does strike us as an oddity at this stage of the proceedings.

The other interesting fact is that the Discoveroids have been totally silent. For more than three weeks we’ve seen no press releases and no blog entries at their website about this case. What’s that all about? Have they figured out that the case is a loser and they’re trying to forget that they were originally so excited about it? Or is their silence something that was agreed to as part of whatever negotiations are currently going on? Again, it’s pointless to guess. All we can do is observe the unexpected silence. It definitely means something, but we don’t know what that might be.

Where does all this inactivity leave us? We’re in the dark, trying to figure out if the case is quietly dying, or maybe the parties are engaged in some kind of settlement talks. Those seem to be the likely scenarios, but things could swiftly spring to life and our speculations will turn out to be worthless. We’ll have to wait and see. But as long as we’re keeping an eye on this case, we thought we’d let you know the status: A singular stillness prevails. So there you are.

Next update: See David Coppedge vs. JPL (08 Jun 2010).

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “David Coppedge vs. JPL: Strange Silence

  1. As a retired ethics advisor for a large aerospace company, and having read the details of the case on the discovery site, my view is that the action against Coppedge is exactly what any large organization would do in the circumstances. He was supposed to be working, but was instead spending time proselytizing to his coworkers. He was warned by his supervisor, which is always required (and which he refers to as harassment) but he continued the disruptive behavior. Eventually, probably after another warning, he was demoted / disciplined. A supervisor would always ask for an internal investigation before applying discipline in a case like this, simply to have an objective third party gather all of the facts so that he can make a proper decision. He would have consulted with the internal legal or ethics department, having the investigation report, before acting. All of this is normal process in virtually any case serious enough to result in demotion or termination.

    Obviously the creationists would like for this to be a case about free speech for intelligent design, but Coppedge would have faced the exact same consequences had he been promoting a political viewpoint, or handing out material on abortion rights, or gay marriage, or whatever. Any such disruptive activity is not acceptable in the workplace.

  2. Ed says:

    Any such disruptive activity is not acceptable in the workplace.

    I think that’s the essence of it. It’s difficult to imagine that this case is the magic vehicle the Discoveroids think it will be.

  3. Curmy, in trying to decipher the actions of the DI idiotbots, you are trying to make sense of the senseless.

  4. Tundra Boy says: “you are trying to make sense of the senseless.”

    Yes, I’m reading the tea leaves in an empty cup.

  5. There is no indication that defense has filed a response with the court. I’m not forking over $15 to find out when they have to file.

  6. rubble says:

    I’m not forking over $15 to find out when they have to file.

    I’ve been Googling around. In California, I think the defendant has 30 days to respond after he’s served with the complaint. Maybe someone here has a more authoritative opinion.

  7. carlsonjok

    It’s difficult to imagine that this case is the magic vehicle the Discoveroids think it will be.

    The same could be said for the Sternberg affair, the Guillermo Gonzales affair, Expelled, any of the various teach-the-controversy bills that get introduced every year, and, well, just about anything the Discovery Institute touches. Indeed, their whole “science” is nothing more than a magic vehicle for getting Jesus back into the schools.

  8. As a retired manager for a large corporation I can tell you that I’d only get HR involved if an employee situation was really, really, really bad and, by that time, I would have had documentation up the wazoo and made sure I had dotted every i and crossed every t.

    Judging from Coppedge’s website he appears to have a massive inferiority complex, really has it in for science and scientists and goes so far as to bash his own Casini team! I don’t see how a person that venomous could keep it bottled up at work surrounded by the “worldview” and people he so hates.

    I did have a guy once who was the most negative person you could ever meet. Not only was the glass half empty but somebody pissed into it. However, co-workers learned to ignore his opinions and let him huff and puff. As far as I know he’s still there complaining that somebody stole his stapler.

  9. Doc Bill says:

    I would have had documentation up the wazoo and made sure I had dotted every i and crossed every t.

    It’s difficult to believe that JPL didn’t handle it like that. If so, and if the parties are now negotiating, the Coppedge team knows they’re in trouble.

    The matter may end up being quietly dropped with a confidentiality agreement, and we’ll never know the details. That’s not ideal, because people would speculate that JPL paid big and doesn’t want it known.

    But it could be the other way around. If Coppedge settles for zero, he might insist on confidentiality to avoid being humiliated. If that happens, the only visible clue will be whether Coppedge gets his old job title back, stays where he is, or moves on to pursue all the wonderful opportunities that are always awaiting creationists.

  10. The one time I ended up in court as a supervisor was a workman comp case involving $1500 of medical bills. We spent a day in court hanging around and the lawyers settled before it went to trial.

    In Coppedge’s complaint he’s asking for his job back AND perpetual immunity to his crazy ass BS.

    Here’s the reality. Coppedge has painted a big target on his back. Come the next reorganization or downsizing or whatever and he’s out the chute. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Reorgs and downsizings don’t require all the justification, i’s and t’s as a normal demotion or firing for cause. Just *poof* and you’re gone.

    Finally, let me say that this entire suit stinks of Discovery Institute manipulation. It was filed a year after it happened. Coppedge has absolutely nothing to gain by winning. He’ll be a pariah if he “wins” assuming he’s not already there. There is no freaking way that he’d be granted the conditions outlined in the complaint. Poor sucker, he’s being used by the DI and doesn’t even know it.