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).
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