David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (03 Sep ’11)

This is a suit by a creationist, David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted (and later fired) by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He works (or did until recently) as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines [which was recently moved here].

It’s been six weeks since our last report about this case. That was David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (17 Jul ’11). Our sources show no record activity since then, so this post is more of a reminder than it is an update. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

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 (until he picked up a few creationist clients) appears to be mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer.

To promote the issue, the Discoveroids initially waged 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, which is here, but which seems to have languished for months.

The official information source for the Coppedge case requires payment of 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. Some minimal information is available for free — the names of the parties and their lawyers, a list of what documents have been filed, what proceedings have been held, and what future hearings have been scheduled.

There’s a great supplement to the information available from the courthouse. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) maintains an archive of pleadings in this case, which you can find here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive.

In our last report we informed you that Caltech (which includes JPL) had filed a motion for Summary Judgment, along with an extensive Statement of Facts and a supporting Legal Memorandum. That motion is scheduled for hearing on 16 September. Coppedge hasn’t filed a similar motion of his own — at least nothing shows up at our sources. That may be a bad tactic, because when faced with conflicting motions for Summary Judgment, it’s not unusual for the judge to take the easy way out and deny both motions, thus leaving it all to be decided by the jury — and this will be a jury trial. But with only one party seeking Summary Judgment, the judge might be more inclined to grant it — if he’s persuaded that there are no factual questions a jury needs to decide.

Coppedge had previously asked for a continuance of the trial but the court denied his request. We told you about that in our report for 03 Jul ’11. The trial is still set to start on 19 October 2011 — about six weeks from now.

His lawyer, Becker, should be all rested up after settling the Darwin’s Dilemma Exhibition Case against the California Science Center, in which he also represented a creationist client. Becker’s Discoveroid friends are certainly keeping him busy.

That’s all we know. There’s nothing new at the NCSE archive, and according to the court’s records, JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment is still scheduled for hearing on 16 September, along with a Mandatory Settlement Conference. That’s two weeks from now. After that there’s a Final Status Conference scheduled for 07 October, and the trial is scheduled to start on 19 October. It’s a jury trial, so anything could happen. Either way it goes, we imagine the losing side will appeal, so we’ll be living with this one for a while yet.

It’s also possible that there could be a settlement. Actually that’s likely, as most cases settle before trial. JPL (or their insurance company) might throw some money at Coppedge — enough to satisfy his lawyers — in order to make this thing go away. Were that to happen, expect the creationists to crow about yet another “victory” for their side. We’ve seen it before. But even if he gets some dough out of a settlement, Coppedge won’t get his job back, and there won’t be any judicial doctrine that protects creationist evangelism on the job.

If we hear of any news, we’ll let you know. Otherwise, we shouldn’t have long to wait before we learn how this adventure in jury-trial creationism works out. Stay tuned to this blog.

Addendum: The NCSE archive has just added a few more pleadings (pdf files) that were all filed by Coppedge around the same time as the date of this post, so we’ll mention them here. Each of them pertains to the hearing on JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment which is scheduled for 16 September. First there’s his 24-page Opposition to JPL’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Essentially, Coppedge claims that the evidence does indeed support his claim for religious discrimination. Nothing new, really.

Next is his incredibly verbose, 79-page Objections to JPL’s Fact Statements. That refers to the statement of facts that accompanied JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment. It nit-picks its way through virtually everything. There’s no way we’re going to slog through that. The hearing on the 16th is going to put everyone to sleep.

Next is his 7-page Objections to Evidence. Coppedge claims that some of the testimony in depositions about his harassment of employees is hearsay. Big whoop.

Last is an 88-page long Statement of Additional Disputed Facts. This is supposed to convince the judge that there are so many factual issues to be decided by a jury that the judge shouldn’t grant JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment. We’re not going to wade through it, and we don’t envy the judge who has to do it.

Second Addendum: We just checked the docket at the courthouse, and there have been some scheduling changes, as follows:

(1) JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment is still set for 16 September, four days from now, but there’s also another Summary Judgment hearing set for 26 October. We’re not sure what that second hearing is. It may be a motion filed by Coppedge that we haven’t seen yet.

(2) The Final Status Conference was scheduled for 07 October, and now that’s been moved to 02 December.

(3) The trial had been set to start on 19 October, but that’s changed to 14 December.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (03 Sep ’11)

  1. It’s articles such as this that make me wish there was a “I read this” button, similar to the Facebook “Like” button. I don’t have any comments to make on it (and apparently no one else does either), but I did read it. And it seems so… lonely… to have a post on your blog without having at least one comment. Almost makes it seem as if no one cares. Which is not the case.
    Just a thought.

  2. Thanks, Gary. I learned long ago that not every post is a winner. The case interests me, and if it doesn’t attract any comments, well, that’s how it goes.

  3. Coppedge is demonstrably ignorant of basic science, yet his snarky, arrogant website is beloved by many. He, for example, wrote an article on molecular phylogenetics in which he claimed that heuristic searches are “just guesses” and that maximum likelihood is a value. Which is especially troubling since he supposedly has a background in computer science.

    He should have been fired from JPL a long time ago – for basic incompetence.

  4. We just added an addendum to the post to provide links to some new pleadings filed by Coppedge in opposition to JPL’s upcoming motion for Summary Judgment.

  5. The items mentioned in your addendum are apparently intended to apply pressure to JPL to settle, in the wake of the AFA v. CSC settlement. Coppedge wants to force a trial to increase JPL’s legal costs.

  6. rubble says: “Coppedge wants to force a trial to increase JPL’s legal costs.”

    The whole game here is for Coppedge to get past JPL’s motion for summary judgment without losing the case. If they can squeeze by that, they have a much better chance of getting a good settlement on the eve of an unpredictable jury trial than they do now.

  7. IAC Coppedge is out of his JPL job. All else being equal, a fat settlement is preferable to a thin one.

    But we’re not sure that all else is equal. We’re reasonably sure that the DI is offering pro bono legal assistance. After all, Coppedge is on the board of directors for Illustra Media, which distributes Darwin’s Dilemma among other Creationist titles. And let’s not forget that Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, and Douglas Axe all appear Dilemma. As is the case for AFA v. CSC, this may be more about appearances than about dollars.

  8. We just checked the docket at the courthouse, and there have been some scheduling changes. We’ll add this information to the post as an addendum:

    (1) JPL’s motion for Summary Judgment is still set for 16 September, four days from now, but there’s also another Summary Judgment hearing set for 26 October. We’re not sure what that second hearing is. It may be a motion filed by Coppedge that we haven’t seen yet.

    (2) The Final Status Conference was scheduled for 07 October, and now that’s been moved to 02 December.

    (3) The trial had been set to start on 19 October, but that’s changed to 14 December.