Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Pleadings #5

Yes, another batch of pleadings has been filed. Our last post, which we thought would be the end of it until the judge ruled on all the pending motions and then the trial starts on 07 March, was Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Pleadings #4.

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.

All of the recent activity concerns several motions in limine the parties filed in order to determine what evidence the judge will allow in or exclude from the trial. The judge’s rulings will be vital in determining whether this will be: (a) a routine trial about alleged wrongful termination of an allegedly misbehaving employee who was warned, then demoted, and finally let go in a downsizing; or (b) a month-long extravaganza in which the jury will be shown DVDs about the glories of creationism and the horrors of how its noble proponents have been ruthlessly Expelled! by the godless scientists. In other words, will the trial be about the real world or the creationists’ fantasy world? That’s what this stuff is all about.

These pleadings were obtained from the court clerk’s office by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and then posted at their archive of pleadings in the case: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. They’re scans of pdf files. The bold font in our excerpts was added by us for emphasis.

There are four pleadings in the latest batch. They’re all filed by the Coppedge team, and each one is a response to JPL-Caltech’s opposition to motions previously filed on behalf of Coppedge. In other words, there’s really nothing new here, except that Coppedge is making one last attempt to defend four of his motions in limine.

The first is Coppedge’s response to JPL’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #2, to Exclude References to Proposition 8. We’ve already discussed JPL-Caltech’s position here. Proposition 8 was a proposal to ban gay marriage in California. Coppedge supported Prop 8, and his badgering co-workers about that was one of JPL’s complaints about him. In his motion in limine, Coppedge is trying to keep that topic from being mentioned at the trial because, he claims, it would be prejudicial.

JPL said the issue isn’t about gay marriage, but rather, it’s about Coppedge’s manner of interacting with Caltech’s employees regarding Proposition 8. Two of the three employees who complained about Coppedge cited his conduct in connection with Proposition 8, and Coppedge’s April 2009 written warning was based in part on his interactions with them about Proposition 8.

Now, in defense of the original motion to exclude Proposition 8 from the trial, Coppedge argues:

All of Plaintiff’s Motions in Limine are brought to facilitate the smooth delivery of relevant and not unduly prejudicial evidence at trial.

“Smooth delivery,” unimpeded by inconvenient information. Coppedge’s pleading then quotes external sources about what a “white hot controversy” Proposition 8 was, including tales of demonstrations, vandalism, and death threats (none of which involved Coppedge), and argues that the nature of Coppedge’s conversations could be presented to the jury without mentioning the contents of those conversations. In other words, JPL’s defense of its disciplinary actions should be limited to claiming: “Coppedge’s co-workers didn’t like his style of conversation.”

The next item is Coppedge’s response to JPL’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #3, to Exclude Evidence and Argument that JPL Had a Right to Interfere with Coppedge’s Political Activities. We’ve already discussed JPL-Caltech’s opposition to the original Coppedge motion here. Coppedge’s had claimed 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.

Opposing that motion, JPL-Caltech had said:

Caltech has never argued that it had a “right” to interfere with Coppedge’s political activities, nor does it plan to do so at trial. As Caltech has maintained throughout this lawsuit, it disciplined Coppedge because of the manner of his speech, without regard to the content thereof. Caltech does have the right, indeed the obligation, to regulate employee conduct in the workplace, to prevent unwelcome, offensive and/or disruptive conduct, and that is all Caltech sought to do here.

Now, defending his original motion, Coppedge repeats that his motions “are brought to facilitate the smooth delivery of relevant and not unduly prejudicial evidence at trial” and he also repeats the argument we described above — that the manner of the discussions complained of can be discussed without getting into the actual contents on those discussions.

It’s obvious that the only subject Coppedge wants to be fully explored at trial is creationism. His other behavior will be prejudicial.

The next item is Coppedge’s response to JPL’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #4, to Exclude References to 3rd Parties with an interest in the trial’s outcome. We extensively discussed JPL’s opposition to the original motion in our last post. Coppedge 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.”

Opposing that original motion, JPL-Caltech had argued that such information is relevant to show the bias of Coppedge’s witnesses (e.g., DeWolf is paid by the Discovery Institute) and the bias of Coppedge himself in promoting intelligent design.

Now, defending his original motion, Coppedge again repeats that his motions “are brought to facilitate the smooth delivery of relevant and not unduly prejudicial evidence at trial” and he then argues:

On the eve of trial JPL now collaterally injects a charge of sham litigation or malicious prosecution against Coppedge. But this court’s summary judgment denial established that Coppedge’s discrimination lawsuit has enough merit to warrant a jury trial. That ruling means there was “probable cause” for Coppedge’s complaint.

[…]

JPL’s claim that Coppedge’s lawsuit is aimed primarily at obtaining publicity for intelligent design theory is a covert charge of both sham litigation and attorney misconduct in bringing a frivolous case. … The court’s denial of JPL’s motion for summary judgment defeats JPL’s covert charge.

Evidence about Coppedge’s “true motivations,” or the motivations of the organizations assisting Coppedge with the litigation, could be admissible if these “motivations” were at all relevant. The motivations are not relevant, however, because this lawsuit stands on its own merits.

There’s more to that one, so you might want to read it all. JPL-Caltech seems to have struck a nerve by insisting on bringing in the motives of the Discoveroids and the Alliance Defense Fund. This is a real issue, which JPL doesn’t actually need to win in order to justify its handling of Coppedge, but it would certainly be helpful. The judge should have fun deciding it.

The last of the latest pleadings is Coppedge’s response to JPL’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #5, to Exclude Testimony of JPL’s Economist. We discussed JPL-Caltech’s opposition to the original Coppedge motion here. JPL-Caltech has an expert witness, an economist/statistician, who will testify about Coppedge’s ability to find a comparable job after he was let go in a JPL downsizing. Coppedge’s claim here is that the witness isn’t qualified, his testimony will be speculative, and it will confuse the jury.

As before, we’ll ignore this one. It’s a straightforward legal question which is probably standard stuff in a wrongful termination case. Go ahead and read it if you’re interested.

So there you are. It’s all up to the judge now. Will this be a routine two-day trial about a discharged employee, whom the employer claims was properly demoted and fired because he was a creep, or will it be a month-long mess about an alleged conspiracy by godless materialist scientists to suppress the truth of Oogity Boogity?

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

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11 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: New Pleadings #5

  1. Unlike the Freshwater fiasco which was carried out by a non-judicial panel, this one should go quickly, that is, by Freshwater standards (4 years and counting).

    Coppedge brought up the DI and the AFA in depositions. He doesn’t get take backs. It is an undisputed fact that Coppedge is a board member of Illustria Media, who produced the CD Coppedge was hawking at work, and it’s also a matter of record that Illustria Media is affiliated with the DI. Coppedge’s lawyer, Billy Becker, does work for both the DI and the AFA. Also fact, the DI loaned Coppedge free consulting by attorney Luskin.

    Where there’s a rat’s nest there are rats. Judges aren’t stupid. If we see through this, so will the judge. However, legal issues are tricky and the outcome is still unpredictable.

    If the JPL layoff process was like other big organizations, and I have no reason to suspect otherwise, then each person terminated would be given a package of opportunities including education vouchers, access to a job placement service for 6 months or so, interview coaching and most people are able to move on successfully. What the JPL economist will demonstrate is that Coppedge didn’t even try. I think that’s what Coppedge is afraid of.

  2. What is interesting to me is that Coppedge’s attorneys waited so long to produce their MILs. They must have expected to negotiate a settlement, and when JPL didn’t follow their script, they were caught off guard and are now scrambling to put their actual legal case together. Reading the rather desperate tone of the prop 8 reply, I detect a bit of panic setting in.

  3. It could be that the DI didn’t know the extent or history of Coppedge’s jerky behavior. Only a small part of what led to his problems with HR had to do with the DVD’s, rather his harassment of co-workers about Prop 8 and the Christmas Party caused more harm, it seems. The DI might not have known what they were getting into (I could believe that!) and now it’s blowing up on them. They are up to their eyeballs in this.

    Someone earlier mentioned a settlement but it appeared to me it was along the lines of JPL paying Coppedge to go away. It could also be that JPL offered to let Coppedge off the hook at a reduced court cost, and a gag order, and a gag order on Becker, the DI and the AFA with penalties for violation.

    In my experience with layoffs, the terminated must sign a document accepting the layoff package (conditions) which includes not suing the company for the layoff, otherwise all package benefits must be returned. Or, you can refuse the package, refuse to sign and take your chances in court. I only know of a couple of instances where people sued and both lost at substantial personal cost. A big company does not go into layoffs lightly and they are well-covered.

    According to the documents released earlier it appears that the JPL legal team ran the traps on Coppedge for exposure knowing he had a pending suit against them. I think JPL was very careful, but we’ll all see in a few weeks!

  4. Doc Bill says: “I think JPL was very careful, but we’ll all see in a few weeks!”

    A lot depends on how the judge rules on these motions. If he lets the trial get out of control, it could be a grand propaganda show for the Discoveroids, even if they eventually lose.

  5. @Doc Bill

    It could be that the DI didn’t know the extent or history of Coppedge’s jerky behavior…The DI might not have known what they were getting into…

    That wouldn’t be surprising. They did not know the extent of Bonsell’s and Buckinghams’s jerky behavior either.

    Like Bonsell and Buckingham before him, when Coppedge blew the Intelligent Design dog whistle the DI may have come running, reflexively salivating and grabbing the publicity bone Coppedge was waving.

  6. All this talk about conservative judges reminds me of the heady days when we were getting daily feeds from Kitzmiller. It was when Bonsell was on the stand and waffling around (OK, lying his head off) that the judge intervened and took over the questioning. That was wonderful! The judge was pissed off royally at what he was hearing and made it known to Bonsell who admitted, finally, that the board had solicited and received funds from a church to buy the Pandas books.

    Why Bonsell didn’t end up in jail is a testimony to the Pa AG who deemed it not worth the effort to prosecute this hillbilly for perjury.

  7. Doc Bill says: “It was when Bonsell was on the stand and waffling around (OK, lying his head off) that the judge intervened …”

    Surely you’re not suggesting that the creationists will lie in this case. Coppedge is really the only direct witness on his side. I don’t think he’s got anyone else at JPL. He’ll have some “experts” from the Discovery Institute and such, if the judge allows it, but surely you don’t imagine any of them will lie.

  8. “Smooth delivery,” unimpeded by inconvenient information.

    Indeed. Coppedge’s motion to exclude inconvenient details of his behavior at work reminds me of the apocryphal story of the young defendant whose criminal defense was based on pleading for the court’s mercy because he was an orphan, while trying to exclude the overwhelming body of evidence that would show he murdered his parents.

  9. Longie says: “Smooth delivery”

    Y’know, when I read that phrase in the Coppedge pleadings it reminded me of a line from the Jack Lemmon movie, Irma la Douce. When Shirley MacLaine has a baby, the doctor says: “Smoothest delivery I ever had.”

  10. The Esteemed Curmudgeon wrote:

    Coppedge is really the only direct witness on his side.

    This had not occurred to me (imagine that?). Coppedge has, so far, produced no witnesses, friends, supporters … anybody, Bueler? … from his workplace to support his case. Maybe that legion of supporters is waiting in the wings to swoop down at the final moment to rescue Coppedge from his obvious fate.

    Somehow, I think not. I worked with a Coppedge-like person (not a religious nut, just a totally sour individual) and never met a person in a decade who had a kind word to say about him. One cynical manager even brought him into the group for the express purpose of having someone to give the low rating to, to protect the rest of his people. Eventually he got caught in a layoff, but didn’t sue.

    IANAL, it might be a “rule” that in a wrongful termination suit you are not allowed to involve current employees. Anybody know for sure?

  11. Doc Bill asks:

    IANAL, it might be a “rule” that in a wrongful termination suit you are not allowed to involve current employees. Anybody know for sure?

    I have no idea, but such a rule makes no sense. If there were a bunch of JPL people who thought Coppedge was a great guy, good at his work and always helpful and cooperative, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be allowed to testify. The absence of such people is rather interesting.