David Coppedge Trial: Day 3 Begins

Day three dawns on the trial of the case filed by 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. As you recall, 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 last time we posted a lot of background information was here: Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Perspective. That’s where to go if you need to catch up. But for most of you, we can just continue with the dreary saga of what should never been more than a routine employee discipline case, but which Coppedge and his lawyers are trying to turn into an epic drama about the clash of worldviews between science and … whatever it is that goes on inside the brains of people like David Coppedge.

We’ve already commented on the incompetent, inaccurate, wretchedly one-sided press coverage of this case so far, with virtually all media relying almost entirely on press releases and statements from the Coppedge team and their creationist allies. But now we’re detecting a subtle shift in the news stories. Some of the reporters are dimly sensing that JPL-Caltech is also a party to this case, and their role is not to passively play the part of Darth Vader. They too have a story to tell, with actual witnesses and documentation.

This shocking revelation hasn’t yet penetrated most of the media — who like to have their stories written for them — but a few are starting to figure it out. So when the Coppedge team isn’t telling their tale of woe to the world, some reporters are listening to the other side. Hey, journalists — this isn’t that difficult! It’s like a baseball game — there are two teams, and they each get to take turns. Even if all you know is from the press kits handed out by one of them, you’ve got no choice but to sit there while the other team takes its turn.

Here’s an example of what we’re seeing this morning: In the Burbank Leader we read JPL employee wasn’t fired over religious beliefs, lawyer says.

[A]ttorneys for JPL said in court Tuesday that Coppedge had a history of complaints against him. He was one of roughly 200 JPL workers who were laid off amid steep funding cuts and as NASA started winding down the Cassini project.

Representing JPL, James Zapp said in court that Coppedge was his own worst enemy, and saw himself as the victim of a “war against intelligent design,” starting in 2009 when one of Coppedge’s co-workers filed a harassment complaint against him for requesting she change the “holiday” potluck to the “Christmas” potluck.

More than 15 people had complained to Coppedge’s supervisors over the years about his customer service, saying he was stubborn and hard to deal with, Zapp added. Administrators repeatedly told Coppedge the issue was how he was interacting with people, not what he was saying, Zapp said.

None of this is news to us, dear reader. We’ve been discussing these things for at least a year, because they’re disclosed in the court pleadings filed by the parties. But until now, the press coverage of the case has been totally dominated by the Coppedge team as they cater to the inherent laziness of the press who are all too willing to accept whatever is handed to them. Now, finally, with the trial underway, the media have little choice but to pay attention as each party gets a chance to tell its side of the case.

We could rave on for pages about the press, but it’s best that we stop here. Now that the case has begun, perhaps the public relations efforts of the creationists will have a smaller effect, and the facts of the case will dominate the news. We shall see.

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

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24 responses to “David Coppedge Trial: Day 3 Begins

  1. More than 15 people had complained to Coppedge’s supervisors over the years about his customer service, saying he was stubborn and hard to deal with…

    Since he was an internal sys admin Coppedge’s “customers” were likely all JPL employees using the computer systems he was responsible for maintaining. These “customers” were likely scientists and engineers. It is highly unlikely they were computer illiterate dummies.

    A couple of complaints over the years might be considered normal, but 15 shows a pattern. This is a big black mark on Coppedge’s record.

  2. one of Coppedge’s co-workers filed a harassment complaint against him for requesting she change the “holiday” potluck to the “Christmas” potluck.

    Because, as we all know, ID is too science! It has nothing to do with religion!

    I would love, love, love to have heard Coppedge describe how his request was related to Intelligent Design, or how this person was ignoring his legitimate scientific ideas.

  3. Part of Coppedge’s case seems to be that his co-workers were intolerant of him and his views. They ganged up on him making frivolous, untruthful, invalid, and intolerant complaints to management which resulted in his demotion and firing.

    He’s playing the persecuted TRVE Christian martyr card.

  4. I’ve been reading through some of the court documents at the NCSE it’s actually fairly interesting and JPL has more than the media is letting on.

    Complaints, requests from managers for his removal, many attempts to correct his behaviour attempts to shift him to other projects where he had annoyed fewer people.

    The most interesting thing is Coppedges origenal complaint about being removed as team lead. The “lead” designation had NO pay increase, or increase in responsibilties. It was an informal title for the purpose of administration access. So his complaint about being removed as the lead person was not a demotion but a shift in responsibilities.

    Reading through the evidence list there are a series of e-mails saying “thankyou” and some christmas cards sent out by others. I’d guess david is trying to say that he was personally targeted over his belief because a few people said thank you to him for doing his job, and that others had sent out christmas cards. Overall these do not add up to anything.

  5. The inherent laziness of the media is giving the Disco Tute all kinds of publicity about “intelligent design” creationism.

    The media is reporting 4-5 permutations of the same theme and often the same paragraph simply cut and pasted, but along the lines of:

    “Intelligent design is the belief that the universe and life are so complicated that they had to be formed by a higher power (deity, intelligent agent, God of the Bible).”

    For years the Disco Tute has worked to distance “intelligent design” creationism from the higher power thing, and now they are firmly back at square one with hundreds of articles associating IDC with oogity boogity and not a single news article, aside from a Disco Tute press release, to the contrary.

    Poor Disco Tute, all that work for nothing!

    All together now, “Awwwwwwwwwwwww.”

  6. The plaintiff and his sycophantic supporters appears to be playing to the media in order to set up a narrative when the inevitable defeat comes in court. By creating, through the media, a fantasy narrative that Coppedge was wronged by religion-hating administrators, while the defense keeps quiet and tries the case in court, they are setting up the “activist judge” narrative. This also explains the curious decision to eschew a jury trial in favor of the case being decided by a judge. Coppedge & company realize a defeat handed down by a jury cannot be spun as conveniently, and fit into a familiar and comfortable narrative, as can a defeat handed down by a judge.

    When the judge rules in favor of JPL, Coppedge & Company will trot out the tried and true narratives used in the wake of the Kitzmiller case, where the called the judge an “judicial activists” and railed against him for “plagiarizing the plaintiffs’ filings in his decision.” This will be followed by the inevitable fundraising letters from the UnDyscovery Institute — “if only we had more money to hire more lawyers, PR flacks, etc., we could counteract these evil judicial activist judges … send you donation TODAY!”

    In conclusion, everything the plaintiffs and their pals in arms are doing is consistent with knowing they will lose the case. It’s a PR war, not a legal battle.

  7. Atty. Becker is trying the Hambo Defense: Were You There? With a little Disco Tute Twist: ID isn’t religious because we don’t say Jesus.

    Coppedge is innocent because there is not a 15-year old trail of documentation to backup the claims he was a jackass.

    Well, in my vast corporate experience there would never be a 15-year old trail of complaints because you’d be out on your keester after 2 or 3. Complaints, not years!

    Warning: War story coming

    We had an electrical technician who did not like women in the workplace at all. At. All. Then a female electrical technician was hired into his group and he became unbearable, but not to her. He never said anything to her or treated her differently. But around everybody he would go on and on and on and on about how stupid she was, how weak she was (she was an ox), how incompetent she was (1st in her class) and it never stopped. This went on for about a year and it got to the point that when he came to work on something we’d all leave the building rather than listen to him bellyache.

    Customer complaints to the electrical shop about his attitude got so bad they transferred him to another shop a mile or so away. However, he didn’t stop ragging about her even though she didn’t work in his group! After 6 months a HR complaint was filed, they investigated and uncovered years of unacceptable behavior and they fired him. It was a big surprise. He tried to claim there was no “documentation” but it didn’t wash. Apparently, HR couldn’t find a single person to support him. “Creating a hostile work environment” was the charge.

  8. KABC News 7 petitioned for access to the trial and pending limitations at the discretion of the judge will be reporting from the scene.

    Here’s a report.

  9. Doc Bil says: “KABC News 7 petitioned for access to the trial”

    Your link doesn’t mention that. From what I’ve seen, for example, News media in limbo at JPL-Coppedge trial, Becker wants to grill all of JPL’s witnesses about their personal religious beliefs, and JPL wants that to be done privately, without press access. Messy business.

  10. In the filings posted on the NCSE site the court granted a media request from KABC.

    This is it.

    The handwritten notes say essentially “subject to decision of judge regarding privacy of witness testimony.”

    JPL doesn’t mind putting witnesses on the stand, but they don’t want Becker grilling them about their religious and political beliefs and have that testimony shown on the 11 O’clock news. Becker is crying foul that “the public needs to know” those beliefs. Weird argument since the public is not the judge.

    Jousting continues.

  11. I’ll spare you my own war story, but a common aspect of people like this is they simply *do* *not* *get* *it*.

    “You were there, and I wasn’t harassing her, was I?”

    “Oh comes on, we’re guys, how can you take a woman’s side over mine?”

    Ugly stuff. I wish I hadn’t thought about it. Oh yeah, the guy was finally let go for other reasons (lied on his application), but he harassed someone else on his last day. I’ve never been so mad.

  12. longshadow observes, “In conclusion, everything the plaintiffs and their pals in arms are doing is consistent with knowing they will lose the case. It’s a PR war, not a legal battle.”

    Believe you’ve nailed it, Longie. The DI probably knew it all along, and is coldly using Coppedge strictly for the publicity.

    Poor schmuck. First he alienates everyone on the job, then he makes himself unemployable by listening to the DI and going to court. Own worst enemy indeed.

  13. Believe you’ve nailed it, Longie. The DI probably knew it all along, and is coldly using Coppedge strictly for the publicity.

    I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, in that they might have been deranged enough to think that if Coppedge’s legal team got their preliminary motions granted by the trial judge, there was some vague chance he might prevail, but once the motions were rejected by the judge, and they knew Coppedge’s legal team was not going to be afforded the chance to play games and festoon the case with irrelevant effluvia, all bets were off. Now that Coppedge’s case is stripped to the bare essentials, and it is plain for all to see he has no case, they are just posturing for the best narrative they can cobble together to try to make a cow’s ear look like a silk purse.

  14. LA Times is reporting that the judge denied Becker & Coppedge the use of a “religion expert”. According to the article,

    “I am quite able to make a decision based on the evidence and the legal standards,” said Hiroshige, who will decide the case without impaneling a jury.

    Then there’s this gem from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune,

    “I do not see this as a privacy issue, it’s a gag order and an effort to blind the public,” Becker said.

    “What troubles me is that the public will hear half of the case and not understand what this case is about, if they only hear half the testimony,” Becker said. “JPL doesn’t want anything to come out in this case.”

    Well, as I see it, up til now, they’ve only heard half the case, which has been Coppedge’s half thanks to the must-be-running-on-overtime propaganda machines at the DI and ADF. What they really don’t want to come out are the unvarnished statements from the many witnesses that JPL has lined up. They figure the best way to do that is to make them feel uncomfortable by having media people present.

  15. Gary says: judge denied Becker & Coppedge the use of a “religion expert”.

    That was DeWolf, a Discoveroid “expert” who was supposed to testify about the traditional animosity against intelligent design.

    As for the privacy issue, my take on that is that Becker wants to have some kind of public inquisition about the religious beliefs of JPL’s witnesses to show how prejudiced they were to poor ol’ Coppedge.

  16. @SC

    Becker wants to grill all of JPL’s witnesses about their personal religious beliefs, and JPL wants that to be done privately, without press access.

    This may help explain the decision to forgo a jury trial. How many people want to be grilled under oath about their religious beliefs (Inquisition anyone?). This strategy would probably PO some jurors.

  17. @SC As for the privacy issue, my take on that is that Becker wants to have some kind of public inquisition about the religious beliefs of JPL’s witnesses to show how prejudiced they were to poor ol’ Coppedge.
    My take, too.

    Nasty, nasty stuff. Probably wants to expose them all as evil evolutionists.

  18. Does anyone have any idea how long a case like this will take? Once you eliminate all the creationist crap it seems like they should be done by now. It does seem that the guy was widely disliked and they had to bide their time to get rid of him. I’m surprised someone can even sue over that. Sure you shouldn’t be fired for your religion, so long as you keep it at home. If you’re proselytizing at work you’re not doing your job and you’re affecting the productivity of others. Keeping a job is more than just being competent it is also playing well with others. (Plus he gets unemployment plenty of time to go find another venue to annoy.)
    Another thing…considering it is the Cassini mission instead of a Christmas party or even a Holiday party, they should have a Saturnalia party.

  19. Jack Hogan states, “Nasty, nasty stuff. Probably wants to expose them all as evil evolutionists.”

    I’m sure the judge will be impressed. Hard to understand the DI’s motivation here.

  20. RetiredSciGuy says: “Hard to understand the DI’s motivation here.”

    They don’t expect to win, so they just want to slip as much propaganda as they can into the record so they’ll have a narrative to whine about.

  21. Anonymous says:

    However, it totally depends on who the boss is and is by far the exception more than the rule. But you have to assume any indication of conservative views will limit your career.

    Around here, I’m the boss, and I’m probably more conservative than you are. But your career here has ended.

  22. Tomato Addict

    Around here conservatives and liberals find common ground for rational discourse. Mostly.
    Thanks Curmie, you would make a good career counselor.

  23. Tomato Addict says: “Curmie, you would make a good career counselor.”

    I can’t help you until you give up your abominable tomato addiction.

  24. Tomato Addict

    They’ll take away my solanum lycopersicum when they pry them from my cold, dead phalanges.