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

Now that the Coppedge trial has been re-scheduled for 07 March, as we reported here, we thought it would be a while before we had more to say about about the case of 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. He used to work as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines [which was recently moved here].

We hadn’t factored in the work of 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 they’ve just added several new pleadings that should interest you. By the way, NCSE has to pay court fees for obtaining copies of these pleadings, upon which we all rely for accurate information. The latest batch of Coppedge items cost them about $150. If you’re looking around for a worthy recipient of your generosity, NCSE is as worthy as they come. You can donate right here.

Now let’s see what legal shenanigans have been going on. First there’s a whole flurry of “motions in limine” mostly filed by JPL, but some filed by Coppedge. All of 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.

According to Wikipedia, a motion in limine is made at “a pre-trial hearing or during an actual trial requesting that the judge rule that certain testimony regarding evidence or information may be included or excluded from the trial.” It seems that each side in this case has an ark-load of stuff that they don’t want the other side to mention.

The first item (these are all pdf files) is Defendant’s motion to exclude any mention that Coppedge’s conduct was justified because of NASA’s or JPL’s research into the origin of life. We like this one, because Coppedge’s cheerleaders have been constantly saying that Coppedge was just trying to be helpful to JPL by offering his creationist material, and his being an advocate of creationism or intelligent design was work-related. The memorandum following the brief motion makes the point that we’ve often made here:

But Coppedge conveniently forgets that he was a System Administrator (“SA”) whose job was to service computers and computer networks for the Cassini mission — not to debate scientific issues (including life’s origins).

The next item is Defendant’s motion to exclude testimony, evidence, argument, and comment about the contents of Coppedge’s DVDs. The memorandum in support of this one says:

Caltech expects that Coppedge will try to show DVDs that he passed out to his co-workers, such as the intelligent design films entitled “The Privileged Planet,” “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” and “Icons of Evolution;” and/or other religious films entitled “The Case for a Creator,” “The Case for Christ” … Caltech also anticipates that Coppedge may attempt to show films regarding proponents of intelligent design who allegedly experienced hostility, such as “Expelled” … .

This is great stuff! If these motions are granted, all of the Discoveroids’ talking points will vanish. The next item is Defendant’s motion to exclude testimony, evidence, argument, and comment about counsel’s privileged consultation with Caltech. This one is very technical, involving attorney-client privilege and such. Caltech doesn’t want it mentioned because Coppedge intends to claim that such meetings were just a facade for firing him, and to rebut that, Caltech would have to divulge privileged matters.

The next item is Defendant’s motion to exclude Plaintiff’s subjective opinion of his own job performance. An excerpt:

Caltech does not seek to exclude customers’ and supervisors’ assessments of Coppedge’s job performance (for example, in performance reviews), or the underlying facts of the work that Coppedge performed.


Coppedge’s own subjective, self-serving conclusions are merely that, and they are irrelevant to what motivated the decision-makers in this case. It does not matter whether Caltech was right or wrong in determining that Coppedge was not the most qualified S.A. [System Administrator], so long as its actions were non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory — and they were.

This next motion is neat. It’s Defendant’s motion to exclude testimony, evidence, argument, and comment about Plaintiff’s subjective opinions about ultimate legal issues. Good grief — does Coppedge think he’s allowed to tell the jury how they should decide the case? The motion says:

Defendant California Institute of Technology (“Caltech”) anticipates that Plaintiff David Coppedge (“Coppedge”) will attempt to tell the jury his subjective belief on ultimate legal issues in the case — i.e., that Caltech “discriminated” against him because of his religion and/or viewpoints, “retaliated” against him, and “demoted” him — in the hope of affecting how the jury decides those ultimate issues. But the jury must be allowed to reach its own conclusions on these issues based on the evidence. Coppedge’s self-serving opinions and legal conclusions are improper, irrelevant, and unduly prejudicial to Caltech. They must not be allowed.

Next is Defendant’s motion to exclude testimony, evidence, argument, and comment about viewpoint discrimination. This is interesting. They want to prevent Coppedge, his lawyers, and his witnesses from mentioning:

any argument pertaining to “viewpoint discrimination,” including without limitation any testimony by Coppedge that he experienced viewpoint discrimination.

[S]uch evidence is inadmissible because it is irrelevant and because any testimony by Coppedge on this matter is improper lay testimony. It will also confuse the jury and cause undue prejudice to Caltech.

There are several more of what the parties thought were pre-trial pleadings, but this post is already long enough. NCSE’s costly archive has provided us with a feast of material. We’ll discuss some more later today, or maybe tomorrow.

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

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

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2 responses to “David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Motions

  1. First, do support the NCSE. Genie Scott and the rest of the staff do a great job keeping tabs on creationism “flash fires” and providing timely and relevant information like these court documents.

    As for Coppedge, it appears that they’re going for the Kitchen Sink legal strategy; throw in everything they can find. The jury in this case is going to weather a blizzard of lies from the plaintiff. I hope they survive it.

  2. JPL maintains that Coppedge was demoted and let go for poor job performance.

    Coppedge is claiming he was fired for expressing his views on ID and not for poor job performance. He is also claiming JPL is suppressing his free speech, discriminating against his views, discriminating against his religious beliefs, etc.

    Seems like JPL is trying to prevent Coppedge from arguing about anything other than his job performance. Practically speaking, it seems they are trying to get the judge to limit the number of other things Coppedge can claim he was fired for and that he can bring up during the trial. They do not to give him a soap box to propagandize from.

    Even so, it seems to me he could be fired for both promoting ID and poor job performance. But I suspect JPL wants to avoid discussion of ID as much as possible. Promoting ID was not his job. It was not in his job description. No one asked him to contribute his views on the matter. His job had nothing to do with ID. In fact, JPL has nothing to do with ID. Time spent promoting ID on the job is time spent not doing his job. Time spent promoting ID distracts others from doing their jobs, jobs that have nothing to do with ID. It seems the only case JPL has to make if he brings up ID is that it has nothing to do with his job or what the people he worked with and for were doing.

    If I, hypothetically, as a computer systems administrator working for Ford, spent my time on the job constantly pestering the engineering department, the marketing department, and the manufacturing department about my great idea for a new kind of waffle iron I would probably be fired fairly quickly.

    However, the joker in the deck is this is a jury trial. From what I know, I have little doubt how Judge John Edward Jones III and most of his associates would rule if it wasn’t.