Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: More Pre-Trial Motions

This is a continuation of our post this morning: David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Motions. As we explained, these motions were filed a day or two before the trial was continued, so they represent the parties’ preparation for a trial they thought was starting in only two weeks. Most of them (those filed by JPL and Caltech) are motions in limine, to restrict what the other party can say at the trial.

All of these have been obtained from the court by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). They maintain an archive of pleadings in the case here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive, and as we mentioned, they incur costs in doing this. For that and for all their other good works they’re certainly worthy of a contribution. You can donate right here.

We began this morning’s post with several motions filed by JPL & Caltech. There’s still one more of those: Defendant’s Motion in Limine to Exclude or Limit Testimony of David DeWolf. They’re asking for:

an order barring the testimony of plaintiff David Coppedge’s purported expert, David K. DeWolf (“DeWolf”) in its entirety, or in the alternative, precluding Coppedge and his counsel from offering any testimony or documentary evidence, making reference to or presenting any argument (through DeWolf or otherwise) that the proponents of intelligent design historically have been subjected to hostility or discrimination or that Caltech’s treatment of Coppedge is an illustration of the hostility toward advocates of intelligent design.

This motion is made on the grounds that DeWolf’s testimony is not proper expert testimony and will not assist the trier of fact, is irrelevant, is unduly prejudicial, and is akin to inadmissible character evidence.

That’s all we see of JPL-Caltech’s motions. Now we go to motions filed by Coppedge. The first is Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine to Permit use of DVD Content. This is about the showing of two intelligent design DVDs to the jury. Coppedge wants permission to show the jury “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet.” What’s he trying to do — convert the jury to creationism? The motion says:

This motion is made on the grounds that the DVDs are relevant as to Defendants’ witnesses [that is, witnesses for JPL and Caltech] state of mind and credibility. [Huh?]


Plaintiff contends that the [sic] these documentaries discuss science, not religion. The evidence in this case will show that Defendants’ employees perceived intelligent design to be religious in nature, and, based upon that erroneous perception, accused Plaintiff of harassing them.

Coppedge wants to have the Kitzmiller case all over again!

Anyway, that was the first of thirteen pleadings recently filed by Coppedge. The next is a 187-page Declaration by Becker, Coppedge’s lawyer. You know we’re not going to read it all, or even a significant portion of it. It’s a big collection of exhibits that Becker thinks support his case — including a transcript of the DVD “Unlocking the Mystery of Life.” Frankly, dear reader, we’re not even going to glance at that stuff. But it’s in the NCSE archive if you’re curious.

Next we have Becker’s Proposed Jury Voir Dire Question — which lawyers ask prospective jurors to see if they’re qualified to sit on the jury. Several of the questions aren’t very subtle. Coppedge apparently wants a jury loaded with creationists and people who have had problems on the job. Good luck with that! Among his questions are:

14. In your opinion, how much religious discrimination is in the business world today — a lot, some, little, or none?

21. What are your feelings about a fired employee who comes into court and asks for money damages as a result of being wrongfully disciplined or terminated. [Observe, dear reader, that’s not “claiming” he was wrongfully treated, but “as a result of being” so treated.]

43. Tell us if you think it is acceptable or unacceptable to talk about the following topics at work: Politics, personal problems, sex, religion.

47. What is your understanding of intelligent design? Creationism?

52. Would you have an objection if intelligent design was discussed in a science course? Why or why not? Creationism? Why or why not?

That’s enough of those. Then there are several proposed jury instructions. That’s the stuff the judge reads to the jury at the end of the trial as they retire to the jury room to decide the case. We’ll skip them. They’re important; an improper instruction can result in the reversal of a jury trial. But this is only Coppedge’s version. The final instructions will get thrashed out later in a hearing at which both sides present their proposed instructions to the judge.

Next we have Plaintiff’s trial brief. It’s a very one-sided presentation of the facts, and it reads like a Discovery Institute press release. We don’t know what function a trial brief serves, other then being a road map for Coppedge’s lawyer, but if it’s going to play any role, we’re certain to see JPL filing an objection to it.

There are several more pleadings at the NCSE archive which were filed by Coppedge and which we haven’t yet discussed — or even read. We may get around to them one of these days. Anyway, the trial won’t be until 07 March, so it’s too early to get worked up over this stuff. But we’re grateful to NCSE for posting all of this information.

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

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10 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: More Pre-Trial Motions

  1. Coppedge wants to have the Kitzmiller case all over again!

    Basically, and this time with a jury.

    However, as I commented on today’s first post, it seems JPL need only demonstrate ID has nothing to do with his job, is not in his job description, and is not in the job description of anyone he worked with or for.

    Hope the judge does not let him get away with what he, and the DI, are trying to do.

  2. Jack Hogan says:

    Hope the judge does not let him get away with what he, and the DI, are trying to do.

    Even though this is a jury trial, the judge can have a lot of control by his rulings on motions like this. If the jury doesn’t get to hear crazy stuff, they might come to the proper decision.

  3. On reread of the proposed questions for prospective jurors, it seems he may try to claim his ID chit- chat (AKA proselytizing) was no different than normal office banter, gossip, and small talk — that is, normal socializing. I suppose he could make that case, but it should be irrelevant, unless part of his poor job performance was engaging in excessive socializing on the job. However, then he would have to demonstrate that either the claimed excessive socializing was not excessive or that what he was talking about was job related.

    He cannot have it both ways.

  4. To Coppedge and the ID community at large, this looks less like a jury trial and more like an Expelled style reality show, with the Discovery Institute producing and directing. The whole point is to demonstrate how ID is “censored” or “shut out.” The trial verdict is practically meaningless in this context.

    Even Becker’s motions seem designed less as legitimate legal tools, and more as weapons for out-of-court propaganda. For example, if the judge rules that the DVDs will not be seen, the DI’s spin will be Expelled style: “see, even the courts are censoring ID.”

  5. Coppedge and his attorneys seem to think it’s okay to harass your co-workers, as long as the subject you are harassing them about is acceptable. They know better, of course. Coppedge could have been passing out DVDs on Horticulture: if he were pushy, if his coworkers felt pressed to take their personal time and watch his DVD, if he was trying to get them to discuss and adopt his views on some subject they may not even want to think about, if disagreeing with him meant endless future discussions – in short, to the extent that he made co-workers uncomfortable at work, he was harassing them. It was his actions, not the subject matter, that was of concern to JPL.

    I also had the sense from reading earlier documents that his workplace campaign for Proposition 8 had quite a bit to do with the eventual discipline. None of these materials address that subject, and of course the DI does not mention it at all in their spin/propaganda. I wonder what happened to that issue?

  6. I’m wonder who is paying Coppedge’s legal fees. Becker can’t be doing this on contingency, can they? They don’t seem to have a history of crusading for creationism until recently — this case and the AFA vs CSC case.

    I assume the DI is funding Coppedge.

  7. Unquestionably, the DI is providing some kind of legal support to the case. However, there are likely two other players that haven’t received much mention.

    Becker is allied with the Alliance Defense Fund. While this case is allegedly technically out the ADF ministry’s mission, ADF did issue a statement on their website.

    The other likely legal funding player is Illustra Media, where Coppedge serves on the Board of Directors.

  8. In Coppedge’s very own court documents he comes across as that annoying person who would wiggle his fingers in front of your face chanting, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” until you finally break, grab his fingers and bend them back until they snap. Then you’d get in trouble for hurting poor widdle Davey.

    In Becker’s file, there’s a transcript of Davey being counseled by his supervisors and they’re telling him over and over that it was his behavior that bugged people, not the content of his discussions or DVD’s. And he’s totally oblivious coming back to Federal Guidelines for religious protection time and time again, and his supervisors are SO PATIENT telling him over and over that it’s not about the content, it’s about his behavior.

    Davey just doesn’t get it which is why his obnoxious behavior went on for over a decade. People in JPL went out of their way to avoid Coppedge, yet Davey was under the delusion that he could bug them, fingers in the face, because it was his right to do so.

    What a piece of work he was.

  9. Here’s Coppedge on his own people, JPL planetary scientists. This is published on his own website:

    ‘In most careers, being wrong too often is grounds for dismissal. False prophets in ancient kingdoms were stoned or shamed out of town. Only in science, it seems, can experts consistently get it wrong, and not only keep their jobs, but be highly esteemed as experts. Among the guiltiest of the lot are planetary scientists, whose predictions have been consistently wrong for almost every planetary body studied since the dawn of the space age.”

    Nice, huh? Yeah, planetary scientists in his own institution, JPL, are WRONG! Yet they keep their jobs!!! Disgraceful.

    Turns out that Coppedge was worried about slander and sought approval from the JPL Ethics department for his website. He was cleared, of course, to write whatever he wanted on his own dime and also given license to note that he worked for JPL.

    Nice touch. Coppedge could sh*t all over scientists at JPL but claim to work for JPL at the same time. And he was persecuted how?

  10. Becker’s materials include a transcript of the conversation between Coppedge and his line managers when they told him they were reassigning him from his lead responsibilities to other responsibilities. He was in fact given a written warning, which he of course refused to sign or agree with. The reason for his transfer, however, was to improve the working atmosphere on the team. His customers were uncomfortable working with him, and his managers transferred that role to someone else. The transfer was not discipline at all, although it was clearly related to the issue at hand. The actual discipline consisted solely of the written warning.

    The other interesting thing about the meeting is that nowhere in the discussion does Coppedge indicate that he will change his behavior. Instead, he argues every point made to him and defends his rights to continue to proselytize his coworkers. He goes on and on, even demanding that his managers take various actions and provide him with various documents. The guy is completely unrepentant. His managers were amazingly patient with him, much more so than I would probably have been. I don’t see how Becker believes that transcript will help him in a trial – Coppedge comes off as an aggressive prick, and anyone reading it would wonder if he acted the same way with his coworkers.