Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Festival

This is the latest in a series of posts about a flurry of pre-trial motions filed 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. That was followed by a discussion of Coppedge’s responses along with JPL’s response to a strange motion by Coppedge (Colliding Worldviews), and most recently we posted More Pre-Trial Action.

Now we’ll continue with some more responses to various motions in limine. We’re ignoring (at least for now) several pleadings about 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. They’re important; an improper instruction can result in the reversal of a jury trial. But the final instructions will get thrashed out later in a hearing at which both sides present their proposed instructions to the judge.

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. Think kindly of your Curmudgeon, 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’s team filed is his lawyer’s Declaration Opposing JPL-Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about Viewpoint Discrimination. We’ve already discussed Coppedge’s opposition to that, but this pleading (like the others discussed today) is in addition to that. It’s filed by Coppedge’s lawyer, William Becker, apparently on his own behalf. This strikes us as a bit odd, but we have no knowledge of California trial procedures.

Recall that JPL-Caltech wanted to keep testimony about viewpoint discrimination out of the trial because it’s an ultimate legal question (i.e., does this behavior amount to viewpoint discrimination?), and Coppedge’s personal opinion on the matter is improper lay testimony. Coppedge had responded that this case is specifically about viewpoint discrimination. Now Becker (Coppedge’s lawyer) says:

The following facts and circumstances are personally known to me, and if called upon to do so, I could and would competently testify as to them.

He then has 25 pages of exhibits. This is a very weird pleading, because it’s well-known that a lawyer can’t function as a witness for his client in a trial where he’s representing that client. If Becker wants to be a witness, then he can’t be Coppedge’s lawyer at the same time. Surely he knows this. If not, we’re confident that the judge knows it.

Next is the same thing (Becker’s proffered testimony) regarding JPL-Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about the Hostility Proponents of Intelligent Design Have Experienced. Recall that JPL-Caltech had moved to exclude references to (or showing of) the Ben Stein “documentary” Expelled. Coppedge had opposed that by claiming that Expelled is a serious documentary, better than “the biased testimony of JPL’s untrustworthy witnesses.” Now Becker says that he could personally testify about an amazing 37 pages of blather attached to his “declaration” about Expelled, and he says that he (Becker) has “personally viewed it multiple times.”

Next is the same kind of thing regarding JPL-Caltech’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. Recall that 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. JPL-Caltech had argued that Coppedge “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).” Coppedge responded that “he had no reason to believe that discussions about the origins of the material universe and life on Earth would be off limits at an organization dedicated to exploring those origins.” Now Becker says (as with his other “declarations”) that he could personally testify to 21 pages of stuff — including this:

Attached hereto and incorporated herein is a true and correct copy of pages from JPL’s website that I found on December 7, 2011 explain [sic] its PlanetQuest program in search of life beyond Earth.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! It’s hard to believe that a lawyer would file something like this. Well, why not? This is a creationism trial.

Next is Becker’s declaration regarding his willingness to testify about JPL-Caltech’s motion to exclude testimony, evidence, argument, and comment about counsel’s privileged consultation with Caltech. Recall that Caltech doesn’t want that stuff 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. Coppedge had responded that the mere dates and fact of meetings with counsel are not privileged, and the two employees — Dianne Conner and Richard Van Why — who met with his lawyers concerning this lawsuit had also been assigned to determine layoffs. Therefore, Coppedge argued that Conner’s and Van Why’s knowledge of Coppedge’s lawsuit is circumstantial evidence showing that his layoff was the result of a retaliatory motive. Now Becker essentially repeats the same argument — for 12 pages.

The last item today is Becker’s “declaration” about JPL-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 had argued “that excessive disdain for intelligent design is an esoteric phenomenon occurring largely within academia and scientific institutions” and the jury wouldn’t know about such things unless an “expert” like DeWolf explained it to them.

Becker’s “declaration” regarding this one is 120 pages long, consisting of excerpts from depositions; and again he says that he could personally testify about such material — as if such were a lawyer’s function.

That’s where we’re going to leave this series of pre-trial pleadings. We’re grateful to NCSE for obtaining this material and making it available, and we sympathize with JPL-Caltech’s lawyers and the judge who have to deal with issues like this. In our humble opinion, unless the judge really cracks the whip and gets Becker under control, this is going to be one gigantic mess of a trial.

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

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3 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Festival

  1. IANAL but it appears that Becker is simply affirming the “authenticity” of the material allegedly supporting the responses to JPL’s motions. Note that Cameron Fox stipulated in similar fashion. Becker simply added language that he would “testify” if required to “prove” as much. IMO it’s a matter of lawyerly style, and says nothing about Becker actually testifying in front of the jury as a witness, for example.

  2. Rubble says:

    IANAL but it appears that Becker is simply affirming the “authenticity” of the material allegedly supporting the responses to JPL’s motions.

    Maybe. I prefer to think that Becker is in over his head, but we shall see.

  3. There are some new documents filed 12/27/11. These appear to be replies to existing motions in limine, mostly from JPL but perhaps two from Coppedge.