Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Yet More Pleadings

This continues today’s earlier post about 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), which is part of Caltech. He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines — which was recently moved here.

This morning’s post was Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Even More Pleadings. All the background information is there.

We’re going to discuss more of JPL-Caltech’s responses to some recent Coppedge pleadings. These are posted 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 they’re all pdf files. Here we go.

The next in this series is JPL’s Defense of its 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 it’s privileged communications, and Coppedge intends to claim that such meetings were just a facade for firing him. To rebut that, Caltech would have to divulge privileged matters. Coppedge responded that he doesn’t want to reveal privileged communications. Rather, because the dates and fact of such meetings are not privileged, he wants to use that information to show that such discussions were conducted by JPL employees who were assigned to determine layoffs, and to claim that their knowledge of Coppedge’s lawsuit is circumstantial evidence showing a retaliatory motive for firing him.

Defending its motion, JPL-Caltech says:

… Coppedge wants the jury to speculate that the mere fact that counsel had privileged meetings with certain Caltech managers after the lawsuit was filed infers that the purpose of the meetings was to plot retaliatory conduct. Permitting such testimony would present Caltech with a Hobson’s choice: (a) allow the jury to engage in unbridled speculation about what was said, or (b) waive its attorney-client privilege just so it can defend itself against Coppedge’s unfounded insinuations. The court should not permit this rank and highly prejudicial speculation — or this total disregard for the attorney-client privilege.

Next is JPL’s Defense of its 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 argued that the jury couldn’t understand how his discussions of origins would be viewed as religious by JPL without the aid of an expert who can explain the controversy. He claimed that academic prejudice against intelligent design was outside the jury’s experience, so it was necessary for an “expert” to explain it to them.

In defense of its motion, JPL-Caltech says:

Coppedge will deploy DeWolf to lecture the jury about intelligent design and its theories, confuse them with irrelevant anecdotes about intelligent design proponents who have no connection or similarity to Coppedge, and tell them that they should view Caltech’s witnesses as being hostile to Coppedge simply because that is how intelligent design proponents claim to have been treated elsewhere and how they believe they are perceived generally. None of this is relevant to this lawsuit, and all of it is unduly prejudicial to Caltech.

[T]he only relevant evidence on intelligent design is what the witnesses knew about it, and how they perceived it. … The jury does not need DeWolf to tell them, nor indeed can DeWolf tell them, what [JPL employees] know or think about intelligent design. …

In reality, Coppedge’s effort to put DeWolf in front of the jury is no different from his desire to show the intelligent design DVDs at the trial. It is all part of a larger campaign by Coppedge (and more importantly, the Discovery Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund “ADF” which are helping to finance this lawsuit) to use this case as a platform for promoting intelligent design. DeWolf himself has a personal interest in this outcome. He is a paid senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, whom he considers to be a client, and he is an affiliate of the ADF, for whom he tought seminars for roughly seven years. … The Court should resist this misuse of trial time by a patently self-interested “expert” witness. [Bold font added by us.]

There’s more to come. We’ll save them for another post.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Yet More Pleadings

  1. Coppedge wants the jury to speculate that the mere fact that counsel had privileged meetings with certain Caltech managers after the lawsuit was filed infers that the purpose of the meetings was to plot retaliatory conduct.

    I really really hate people who use “infer” when they mean “imply.” 🙂

  2. I really really hate people who use “infer” when they mean “imply.”

    From your implication I infer that you’re a little touchy on that subject.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    Weell, hmm, maybe the “infer” in this case is at least tolerable, and probably the better usage.

    As the passage reads, JPL-Caltech asserts that Coppedge’s game plan is to cause the jury “to speculate”. Therefore it follows that the resultant action is on the side of the jurors, who could form an unfounded inference as a result of their own speculation.

    For JPL-Caltech to assert that there is an implication on the part of Coppedge, we would have to wait for that moment in the trial when, at which point JPL-Caltech would object, in the presence of the jury. A bench conference might ensue, but there is no way to put that cat back in the bag even if the judge directs the jury to disregard.

    In the context of pre trial arguments by JPL-Caltech to control what the jury is exposed to in the courtroom, “infers” appears properly used as the product of “to speculate”

  4. I can’t comment on the grammatical correctness, but I sure like the fact that JPL’s attorneys are pointing the finger directly at the DI and the ADF, and exposing this case for what it is.

  5. Whenever the DI is involved, it’s all about publicity first. Not necessarily for them – very few people know the DI or its Fellows by name – but for their catchy anti-evolution sound bites. If they lose a case they just play the martyr and whine about “evil Darwinists” and “activist Judges.” And people who are no more Biblical literalist than we are eat it up, saying everything from “what’s the harm, let them believe” to “I hear the jury’s still out about evolution.”

  6. Rubble says: “Oh, this is beautiful …”

    Indeed it is. Barbara Forrest is the best.

  7. I’m trying to figure out the endgame for the Creationist activists, regarding these lawsuits.

    Often, a party will coyly threaten a lawsuit. The other party may simply relent in the face of such a threat. This is one way for Creationist activists to get what they want.

    A settled lawsuit doesn’t necessarily get the Creationists’ desired result: the forcible injection of their ideas into places where they don’t belong. Unfortunately, monetary settlements give more teeth to threats.

    Finally, the judicial decisions have been disaster for the Creationists, for the most part. The Christine Comer case was a win for the Creationists, but that’s about it, for decisions ultimately favorable to the Creationists; seemingly every other case has been a disaster. Even in a conservative Pennsylvania area (Dover), the Creationists not only lost the lawsuit, but also their standing as school board members, because the district voters kicked them off the board in the elections. The Creationist activists, or least their lawyers, must be aware of this and how the broad constitutional scope is stacked against them. This can’t be the desired result, unless the actual goal is a Supreme Court reversal; this was apparently the goal for the Thomas More Law Center in re: Dover.

    How is stirring public sentiment helpful? Do the Creationist activists really believe that such sentiment will help them in the long run? How does that help exactly, if the judicial odds are clearly unfavorable?