Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Round of Pleadings

When we last posted about this case (see Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: The Last Pleadings?), we thought we’d seen the end of the pre-trial maneuverings. We were wrong. A new batch has just been 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.

As you know, David Coppedge is 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.

If you need background information, it’s in our last post, to which we linked above. This latest pack of pleadings have all been filed by the Coppedge team. They’re motions in limine, which are intended to control the evidence or information that can be included or excluded from the trial. The way the judge rules will determine if this is to be a short, snappy trial that stays on point, or if it wanders all over the place and drags on forever. Okay, let’s get started, and all the bold font in the pleadings was added by us for emphasis:

The first item in this new round of pleadings is Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #2, to Exclude References to Proposition 8. We discussed that issue almost a year ago in David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (12 Mar ’11), in which we described Coppedge’s Second Amended Complaint. Here’s what we quoted from that document:

9. Plaintiff, an information technology (“IT”) specialist, was charged with violating his employer’s anti-harassment and ethics policies. The allegations of harassment against Plaintiff included, without limitation, charges that he had (1) promoted his religious views by discussing with co-workers a scientific theory of life’s origins known as Intelligent Design (“ID”); (2) promoted his religious views by requesting that the annual “Holiday Party” be re-named the “Christmas Party”; and (3) promoted his religious and/or political views by discussing Proposition 8, a November 2009 ballot initiative approved by voters amending the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman as the only constitutionally authorized form of marriage in the state.

Yes, it’s all coming back to us. Proposition 8 was a proposal to ban gay marriage in California. Coppedge supported Prop 8 on religious grounds, and his badgering co-workers about that was one of JPL’s complaints about him. Now, in his motion in limine, he doesn’t want that topic to be mentioned at the trial. His motion says:

… Proposition 8 is not probative of any material issue in this case, is likely to substantially prejudice Plaintiff’s case, is a distraction to the jury, will mislead the jury and confuse the issues and will result in an undue consumption of time, particularly during jury selection.

That’s interesting. We recall that his Prop 8 activism was one of the behavior problems about which Coppedge had been counseled, and it was important enough to Coppedge that he mentioned it in his complaint. But now he wants to keep it out of the trial. We expect JPL-Caltech’s response to be rather vigorous.

The next motion is Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #3, to Exclude Evidence and Argument that JPL Had a Right to Interfere with Coppedge’s Political Activities. Huh? Doesn’t an employer have the right to restrain its employees’ political activities on the job? Coppedge argues that this will confuse the issues, mislead the jury, and cause him undue prejudice. He says he had the right to make political speeches and hand out flyers, and it’s unfair for JPL-Caltech to deny him that right and then mention his activities at the trial.

We get the impression that Coppedge wants the trial to be exclusively about his allegedly righteous promotion of creationism, and any other other behavior that caused him to be disciplined shouldn’t be mentioned. Good luck with that.

The next motion is Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #4, to Exclude References to Third Party Organizations Interested in this Case. Specifically, he wants:

to exclude any and all reference to the Discovery Institute, the Alliance Defense Fund or other third parties interested in the outcome of this case for the purpose of claiming that Coppedge was motivated to file this action to promote or publicize intelligent design or to expose counsel’s affiliations with the organizations. Alternatively, Plaintiff requests that it be permitted to respond to such evidence with the rebuttal testimony of organizational representatives.

This is interesting. In the Memorandum portion of that motion, it says:

Counsel for Coppedge [that’s Becker] is an attorney that has represented the Discovery Institute (“DI”), a think tank in Seattle that advocates for intelligent design, among other things. Coppedge’s attorney is assisted in this case by DI personnel, some of whom may even be present at the trial to assist him. They provide uncompensated staff assistance, assistance educating counsel about intelligent design and the history of discrimination against intelligent design proponents and other work product aid.

Coppedge’s counsel also applied for and was issued a grant through the ADF to underwrite some of Coppedge’s costs in this case. The Alliance Defense Fund (“ADF”) has publicly supported this case [link omitted]. The DI is publicizing it on its web sites. But so are opponents of intelligent design, such as the National Center for Science Education, which is posting the pleadings in this case on its website [link omitted], as well as bloggers who are republishing the pleadings and offering generally superficial commentary on their web sites and proving Plaintiff’s point in this case: that militant hostility toward intelligent design (often puerile), the spreading of misinformation and ad hominem attacks by intelligent design’s detractors are a common reaction to support for intelligent design.

We have no idea who else may be using NCSE’s archive to comment on the pleadings in this case. Our impression is that your humble Curmudgeon is pretty much alone in this endeavor; but we don’t follow many blogs so we’re likely to be wrong in that. But “puerile”? Well, maybe, but that’s because it’s difficult not to snicker at creationists. Anyway, here’s a bit more from that memorandum:

Who supports a party or position in this lawsuit is entirely irrelevant to whether JPL discriminated and retaliated against Coppedge. The identity of supporting organizations is just as irrelevant here as is the identity and position of an amicus curiae in the appellate courts. There is nothing sordid or nefarious about connections between the organizations and Coppedge.

Actually, that’s not an idiotic point. It really doesn’t matter if Coppedge is now (and only now) being used as a pawn by the Discovery Institute. What matters is if he were mistreated by JPL. On the other hand, it gets complicated if Coppedge were always a pawn, and he intentionally used his job at JPL as an opportunity to aid the Discovery Institute (or perhaps others) by promoting intelligent design, and then provoking this litigation. That’s being a deceptive and disloyal employee. We see this motion as a tough one.

There are several more new pleadings. We’ll get to them in later posts.

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

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5 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Round of Pleadings

  1. It’s interesting that Coppedge filed one motion to bring in the DI, another motion to bring in DI material, then file a motion to exclude references to third party organizations … presumably the DI.

  2. Coppedge’s side is laying out what they consider to be their vulnerabilities. It should be a long list.

  3. Ed says: “Coppedge’s side is laying out what they consider to be their vulnerabilities.”

    Your honor, it’s unfair and prejudicial for the prosecutor to mention all those body parts from my missing girl friend that were found in my refrigerator.

  4. Rubble – its also interesting that a guy who harangued his coworkers about prop 8 would now decide that talking about prop 8 in the court would be “a distraction…confuse the issues and will result in an undue consumption of time.” Well, yes, exactly. That is why JPL asked you to stop talking about it.

    I’m a little more empathetic about the not mentioning who is assisting his attorney. Attorneys do all sorts of things to win cases, and most of us regular folks would probably just trust their attorney to make good decisions. It seems a bit unfair to try and tar the defendant based on who his attorney decides to consult with. But only a little unfair; mentioning third parties in court seems like a perfectly reasonable request.

  5. Did those poopy heads call me puerile?