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

We’re continuing where we left off yesterday, in Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Colliding Worldviews, with a discussion of more pre-trial pleadings in 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].

You remember that just before the trial was continued to 07 March, JPL-Caltech had filed several “motions in limine” requesting the judge to rule that certain testimony, evidence, and arguments be excluded from the trial, about which we had earlier posted here: David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Motions, and here: More Pre-Trial Motions. Yesterday we discussed some of Coppedge’s responses (along with JPL’s response to a strange motion by Coppedge), and now we’ll continue.

These are all pdf files that can be found at the website of our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). They maintain an archive of pleadings in the case: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. And we’ll remind you again that NCSE has to pay the court to obtain this material, so think kindly of them when you’re considering worthy causes to which you might contribute. Hint: you can donate right here. Think kindly of your Curmudgeon too, because the archived pleadings are scans, and we can’t just cut and paste our excerpts; we have to type this stuff.

Okay, the next response that Coppedge filed is his Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about Counsel’s Privileged Consultation with Caltech. Recall that JPL-Caltech had moved to keep such material out of the trial 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 issues are very technical, involving attorney-client privilege and such. Coppedge’s response says:

Coppedge is not seeking to open up privileged communications (i.e. information transmitted). JPL correctly observes “the dates and fact of meetings with counsel … are not privileged” and thus concedes the relevance and admissibility of the fact that two employees — Dianne Conner and Richard Van Why — met with counsel concerning this lawsuit at the same time they were assigned to determine layoffs. Conner’s and Van Why’s knowledge of Coppedge’s lawsuit is circumstantial evidence showing a retaliatory motive … .

We’re not impressed. It’s likely that anyone JPL sent to discuss this case with Coppedge’s lawyers would have known that Coppedge was suing JPL over his demotion and that layoffs were coming. Coppedge needs to do a bit more to show that he was discharged in retaliation for having sued JPL.

Next is Coppedge’s Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude or Limit Testimony of David DeWolf. Recall that JPL-Caltech wanted to keep out 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. In response, Coppedge says:

Will the jury in this case understand how David Coppedge’s discussions of origins would be viewed as religious by JPL without the aid of an expert who can explain the controversy?


What is intelligent design, and why would Coppedge be accused by his co-workers of harassing them and pushing his religious views on them by bringing up the topic and casually loaning them DVDs explaining it?


The truth is that excessive disdain for intelligent design is an esoteric phenomenon occurring largely within academia and scientific institutions. … Scientists are denied peer review, research funding and credentials for taking intelligent design seriously. But these actions are taken outside of the public eye. Is one to believe that this phenomenon is commonly experienced by jurors?

Again, we’re not impressed. The “hostility” shown by academia toward creationism and intelligent design is no different than the attitude toward flat-earthers or moon landing deniers. In our humble opinion, testimony by an “expert” about such hostility is absurd. What we have here is one side of the case living in a fantasy world where creationists (or ID advocates) are heroic champions of the truth, and they’re battling the cruel, closed-minded establishment. We see no reason to present their fantasy to the jury.

Next is Coppedge’s Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about his own job performance. JPL-Caltech had moved to keep that out of the trial because “Coppedge’s own subjective, self-serving conclusions are merely that, and they are irrelevant to what motivated the decision-makers in this case.” In response, Coppedge argues:

JPL will try to establish that Coppedge was fired due to “poor job performance.” It contends — unassisted by any supporting legal authority — that the sole relevant inquiry in this action is the intent and motivation of individuals who participated in discipline and layoff decisions. This argument is erroneous for at least two relevant reasons: (1) JPL’s decision-makers’ state of mind is not the “sole relevant inquiry in this action”; and (2) Coppedge’s ability to describe his performance abilities are [sic] relevant to rebut the subjective/self-serving contentions of the decision-makers.

Interesting. Does Coppedge get to tell the jury what a great guy he is, or is it sufficient if JPL’s people explain to the jury that “we let him go because he kept annoying everyone”?

That’s enough for this post. There’s still more new stuff at the NCSE archive. For now, we all deserve a break from the Coppedge case. Besides, the trial won’t be until March, so there’s plenty of time to return to this mess.

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

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6 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: More Pre-Trial Action

  1. [Re: DeWolf being called as expert to explain…] What is intelligent design, and why would Coppedge be accused by his co-workers of harassing them and pushing his religious views on them by bringing up the topic and casually loaning them DVDs explaining it?

    What a weak excuse to get an IDer on the stand. If Coppedge’s real motivation was to know why he was accused of harassment by his co-workers, the rational thing to do would be to simply call those co-workers to the stand and ask them.

    Coppedge’s ability to describe his performance abilities are [sic] relevant…
    Given that Coppedge was an IT guy who claims he was trying to help the physicists out with their science, I almost want to hear this. I’m morbidly curious about how he would go from “I provided excellent computer support,” to “therefore, I know that ID is relevant to the scientific research being conducted here.”

  2. JPL will try to establish that Coppedge was fired due to “poor job performance.”

    If that’s what Coppedge’s attorneys believe, they are truly living in a fantasy world. Coppedge was one of 247 people laid off at the beginning of the year due to reduced budgets on his program, Cassini, and others. JPL will produce the work papers they have documenting the selection process they went through to identify individuals to be laid off, and Coppedge will be in the list and will meet the criteria.

    Perhaps the DI and Coppedge’s attorneys will argue that JPL performed a mass lay-off just to provide cover for Expelling! Coppedge.

  3. Hello people living in Fantasy Land. (That means you, Coppedge.)

    Layoffs are not rational. Good people go, competent people go, incompetent people go, annoying people go. Some companies try to build a matrix that will take the pain out of the decision process, but, in the end, one’s name either ends up on the list or it doesn’t.

    I my years I experienced growth, downsizing, splits and mergers, centralization and decentralization (all designed to “improve profits” but seldom did) and I was always surprised who was laid off, and who was not. However, having been through the process, putting those lists of names together is far from an objective process. A lot of judgement, experience and “gut feeling” plays a role.

    JPL knew that Coppedge had a lawsuit filed, and Coppedge was on the low end of the team ranking. I’m sure JPL ran the traps to make sure that if Coppedge got laid off it was without prejudice, but we’ll see. I think we’ll find out they went the process very carefully.

  4. I am thankful to have a very competent IT guy at my workplace, but it would be extraordinarily weird for him to offer suggestions on my work.
    If I worked with Coppedge and he had time to annoy co-workers with nonsense, I might begin to wonder if he was (1) doing what he was supposed to be doing, and (2) really necessary to keep around in the first place.

  5. Doc Bill says: “I think we’ll find out they went the process very carefully.”

    Yes, the Darwin conspiracy is usually very clever in doing these things.

  6. I appreciate Tomato’s comment. My PhD is in chemistry but I worked in IT all of my career. In fact, it was quite common for me to offer advice to bench chemists on how to handle and process their data, but not so much to offer advice on their research direction outside of chemical analysis which was my specialty.

    Coppedge, on the other hand, has no scientific qualifications and his “suggestions” would be considered moronic white noise to any scientist. The idea that he could contribute in any way to origin of life research is ludicrous.

    What I find astounding reading the PDF’s is how childish are Becker’s writings and his arguments. He comes across like a complete fool. However, typical creationist style! We’ve seen the same unrealistic, fantasy arguments presented by the More Law firm and the ICR when they sued Texas. Breathtaking inanity. I pity the judge who has to deal with this stuff. Far worse than Judge Judy.