Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: The Last Pleadings?

This is the last in our latest series of posts 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.

The post before this one was Yet More Pleadings. It’s been a long time since we gave a lot of background information, so we’ll repeat some of that here. Most of you can skip the next few indented paragraphs:

This is a big case for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). They’re trying to establish some new kind constitutional right — an employee’s freedom to promote creationism in the workplace. One of their top legal talents, Discoveroid Casey Luskin, is advising the lawyer for Coppedge — that’s William J. Becker, Jr., who (until he picked up a few creationist clients) appears to be mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer.

To promote the issue, the Discoveroids initially waged a public relations campaign which we described here: The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy. They’ve set up a page devoted to this case, which is here, but which seems to have languished for months.

The official information source for the Coppedge case requires payment of fees to obtain copies of pleadings from the court clerks here: Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. At the box for “Case Number” you need to enter BC435600. Some minimal information is available for free — the names of the parties and their lawyers, a list of what documents have been filed, what proceedings have been held, and what future hearings have been scheduled.

Okay, now let’s discuss the rest 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. We’ll mention again that NCSE has to pay court fees for obtaining these pleadings, upon which we all rely for accurate information. If you’re looking around for a worthy recipient of your generosity, NCSE is as worthy as they come. You can donate right here. That ends the commercial. Let’s get started.

The next pleading in this series is JPL’s Defense of its Motion to Exclude Coppedge’s Opinion 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 argued that his ability to tell the jury about his performance is relevant to rebut the subjective/self-serving contentions of the decision-makers at JPL — as if his testimony wouldn’t be self-serving.

Defending its motion, JPL-Caltech say that Coppedge wants to tell the jury not only how long he worked at JPL and for what tasks he was trained (to which JPL has no objection), but he also wants tell the jury about his:

… opinions regarding what “he believes drove JPL’s disciplinary decisions” and “his opinions about why he was demoted and disciplined.”

JPL-Caltech says those are ultimate issues, and Coppedge’s testimony is self-serving.and shouldn’t be allowed for the same reasons (discussed in the next pleading) that he shouldn’t be allowed to give his personal opinion that JPL-Caltech’s actions amounted to “viewpoint discrimination” — because they’re improper legal opinions.

The last pleading in this series is JPL’s Defense of its Motion to Exclude Coppedge’s Testimony about Viewpoint Discrimination. 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, so his testimony is relevant.

Defending its motion, JPL-Caltech says:

While lay witnesses may use conclusory descriptions of facts, in certain limited circumstances (e.g., to describe someone as intoxicated), this does not entitle them to give legal opinions.

They quote from a case cited by Coppedge (a neat thing to do) which says that:

A plaintiff’s subjective belief of discrimination, however genuine, cannot alone be the basis for judicial relief.

And they also say:

Coppedge of course can testify about what he told his supervisors or the HR [Human Resources] investigator. What he cannot do is testify that he actually experienced discrimination, a demotion, or retaliation, in the legal sense.

So there you are. We just checked the court docket and the judge hasn’t yet made any rulings on this stuff. When he does, that will determine the nature of this trial.

This could be a routine suit alleging wrongful discipline and discharge, or it could play out like a long, rambling propaganda article at the blog of the Discovery Institute, in which they describe their fantasy version of a world in which they — and they alone — know the truth about certain scientific “controversies,” for which they routinely suffer cruel and unwarranted penalties imposed by the “Darwin lobby” merely because they dare to challenge entrenched dogma.

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

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