David Coppedge Trial: The “New Trial” Request

We once again return to the suit 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.

When we posted yesterday (Week Five Surprise), the Coppedge team was in a bit of a snit because of some surprise evidence that JPL had come up with, and they want that evidence stricken or they want a new trial.

Now we have JPL’s response. 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.

Let’s look at JPL’s opposition to Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #7. It says:

Coppedge’s Motion in Limine #7 is nothing more than a feeble attempt to utilize an unobjectionable portion of testimony as grounds to obtain a new trial that Coppedge already believes he will need. The testimony in question — former Section Manager Kevin Klenk’s description of departmental rankings used for compensation purposes, explanation that Coppedge ranked in the lower half, and reference to written documentation of those rankings — was never called for by any of Coppedge’s discovery requests or deposition questions.

That’s pretty clear. Nothing to see here, folks. Everybody move along now. Well, let’s read a bit more. JPL discusses the specific document requests that Coppedge made, and to which JPL responded. Regarding the “surprise” evidence JPL says:

[W]hile the compensation rankings corroborate the layoff rankings, they were not considered in the layoff process and thus do not constitute evidence that Caltech took the actions it did (i.e. laying off Coppedge) for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.

After elaborating on their argument that the compensation rankings were never requested, JPL says:

Second, setting aside the fact that Coppedge never requested the compensation rankings, he suffered no prejudice from the fact that Caltech did not provide them in the discovery process, because they are not evidence on which Caltech contends it based any of the decisions in this case. … In the light of this, Coppedge has no basis whatsoever for suggesting he was prejudiced, or that he was somehow “prevented” from identifying additional witnesses or developing different cross-examination strategies.

They conclude with this:

Finally, because Caltech did nothing wrong, there is no basis for either evidentiary sanctions or a new trial.

There are a couple dozen pages of older discovery pleadings attached as exhibits, and in addition, they also filed a monster-sized pleading from October 27, 2010, in which they objected to Coppedge’s discovery request. We haven’t studied that, but presumably it supports JPL’s contention that they didn’t withhold anything material to the case.

So there you are. It’s up to the judge now. Were we to guess how he’ll rule, we’d say that he’s going to rule for JPL on this one. There’s no jury to confuse, and besides that, JPL’s argument that the compensation rankings had nothing to do with its decisions make sense to us.

We don’t think Coppedge is going to get a new trial. Besides, what good would that do him?

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

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19 responses to “David Coppedge Trial: The “New Trial” Request

  1. Becker seems like the classic ambulance chaser lawyer who gets sucked into, or jumps into, creationist crusades. Reminds me a lot of Freshwater’s buddy Hamilton who could barely string together two coherent sentences.

    Becker obviously has no idea how corporations operate, much less HR, based on his ideas about documentation that even a first year supervisor would laugh at.

    Becker’s latest laughable request for “documentation” is the last gasp of a desperate man. Nothing he’s thrown at the wall has stuck and now he’s looking for more stuff to throw. All Becker has done is to confirm to the world that Coppedge is a doofus, his suit is meritless and JPL is a competent, diligent, careful organization. Well played, Becker! Remind us, who’s side are you on?

  2. I agree that becker is out of his depth but I think the number of motions might be more about trying to seem affect as opposed to actually being affective. This lawyer has been thrust into a dispute containing large creationist fundraisers, a multi billion dollar corporation and the national media. This guys media in bin must be swamped full of messages from all sides of this issue.

    Becker probally thought this was a simple employment dispute. He’d get paid, there would be a little settlment and he’d get to go home but it all exploded into the national news and he’s loosing and there is nothing he can do about it. At the very least he can act busy to make sure that no-one can say that he didn’t try everything.

  3. Nah, Becker knew what he was getting into regarding creationism. He’d already been there with the California Science Institute mess. But like Hamilton he’s just a hack. He would be out of his depth in a dispute between a part-time high school student and the Kwik-E-Mart.

    Nope, Becker knew the entire suit was contrived and was probably in on the start of it when the DI convinced Coppedge to file. No way, NO WAY did Coppedge do this on his own. He’s just too stupid. I think the DI orchestrated the entire thing and promised Coppers 79 virgins or something like that. Laugh’s on Coppers, though, who will get Absolutely Nothing out of this and it will be interesting who actually pays the court costs. Look for a Coppedge Legal Fund appeal on a website near you … in Seattle!

  4. Recall the DI’s campaign for a settlement? They were asking (rhetorically) why NASA would not settle, and encouraging their readers to write to the NASA Administrator directly and request that he lean on JPL to settle. They provided email addresses, phone numbers, etc. for their groupies to use. They knew by then that they had no case.

    I think they expected a settlement offer right up to the trial date. Even now, during the trial, Becker is hoping to get out of the trial so they can go back to their strategy of attempting to extort a settlement. That’s the only reason he would raise the possibility of a new trial for such a trivial point. (Or, and this is a stretch, he is creating a position upon which to base an appeal)

    I wonder how many of Becker’s cases ever come to trial. He does worker’s comp cases usually (per earlier postings here) and those rarely come to trial, so my guess is that it’s a fairly small number. It’s speculation, of course, but the DI probably choose him because he successfully extorted money from the CSC without risking having a judge review the facts at a trial. History seems to show that when the a case goes to trial, the DI-backed side loses.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    I’m with Doc on the idea that Coppedge is too stupid to have instigated this on his own. What Coppedge does bring to the table is just another opportunity for honest, fair minded, fundamentalists who run the sham to demonstrate the persecution under which they are being forced to live in our godless secular state.

    Under their theology, there will always need to be a new story to tell about another heroic martyr with the courage of their convictions, and be sent to the lions. And of course the narrative requires that the outcome must always be that the lions win again.

    It is a cheap trick to subvert rational discussion of political issues that affect actual governance, and replace it with simple minded tract stories of human interest that will influence just enough voters to cast votes against their own best interests to swing an election.

  6. Ed, AFA v. CSC began in October 2009, and only settled July-August 2011. Coppedge v. JPL began in April 2010. So the DI didn’t choose Becker based upon the CSC case.

  7. I still think everyone is over estimating DI’s origenal involement.

    Copp is a 61 year old IT professional who disbelieves the scientific establishment yet works for them. While creating and distributing creationist DVDs.He believes he’s absolulty right and gets into fights with his co-workers over it. (he’s 61 and really has nothing to lose JPL was going to be his last job before retirment)

    This is not some meek guy. He is fully capible of bringing an employment lawsuit against JPL on his own. Remember this case started with him being demoted.

    I don’t think DI got involved till after Copp was laid off and the lawsuit was ammended. At that point it showed up on there radar and DI started up some of the propaganda. There lawyer is there in order to look after there own interests and limit damage to DI. Just like the dover case.

  8. Good point, Rubble.

    Spector, Coppedge is quoted in one of the papers filed in the case stating that the week after his discussion with his manager – my memory is hazy about whether he was taken out of his lead position yet – he contacted his friends at the DI, specifically Casey and Wells, for advice and talked to them about his situation. Whether or not they coached him to file a lawsuit is speculation, but it’s very likely that they did and also hooked him up with the ADF and Becker. I believe the statement was from his deposition and was referenced by JPL in the motions in limine dispute about whether to allow discussion of the DI and ADF’s roles in the case.

  9. Interesting I was not aware of that statment.

  10. It’s also possible that Coppedge contacted Becker independantly. The AFA v. CSC case involved the scheduled screening of Darwin’s Dilemma. That film is a production of Illustra Media, for which Coppedge serves on the board of directors.

    The Creationist entanglements are interesting. We may never know exactly who got who to start the ball rolling.

  11. Ceteris Paribus

    @rubble: “We may never know exactly who got who to start the ball rolling.”

    This isn’t a question of which snowflake started the avalanche, but one of how there came to be a mountain of snow.

    The DI has been busy for a couple of decades pushing their wedge strategy forward. What the DI wants is to have their theology accepted by the popular culture as ‘scientific’. That’s what their theater piece Expelled was all about. The Coppedge case is a lower budget dinner theater presentation from the
    same actors’ guild.

  12. @Doc Bill —

    No way, NO WAY did Coppedge do this on his own. He’s just too stupid. I think the DI orchestrated the entire thing and promised Coppers 79 virgins or something like that.

    That sums it up. This is what JPL’s attorneys probably think.

    Laugh’s on Coppers, though, who will get Absolutely Nothing out of this and it will be interesting who actually pays the court costs. Look for a Coppedge Legal Fund appeal on a website near you … in Seattle!

    The DI will paint the judge as an activist Darwinist and portray Coppedge as a martyr. Coppedge will go on a speaking tour talking about his persecution and showing his scars to the believers.

  13. Rats, I’m always late to the party!

    The wise Spector wrote:

    This is not some meek guy. He is fully capible of bringing an employment lawsuit against JPL on his own. Remember this case started with him being demoted.

    Yes, Coppy is a spikey little monkey. He’s brave behind his website. I suspect that many of his co-workers knew about Evolution Headlines and I hope it was a source of mirth and ridicule, but, hopes dashed, having worked in a scientific environment like JPL I know that professionals draw the line at what a co-worker does on his own time. They might have chuckled about it behind his back and perhaps it would have spurred them to post wry pro-science cartoons on their doors.

    I haven’t bothered putting together a Becker biography but from his website he’s a “fellow traveler” among creationists. Always looking for the persecution angle. My guess is that Becker is eating the fees. I doubt he’s earned a dime out of this and we know that his “backers” are going to scuttle under the baseboard when this is over.

    It’s clear from Becker’s filings that he hasn’t done much, if anything, in a trial setting. I mean, really, the screenplay?

    I think the DI is already ginning up the press to spin “Darwinists Control Courts” headlines.

  14. I would tend to agree that Coppedge doesn’t have a leg to stand on upon this issue and that Becker has been incompetent.

    I cannot understand why, in a case such as this, the plaintiff’s discovery did not contain a request for something along the lines of “All JPL employee evaluations of Coppedge”. This would have been both very germaine and provide a reasonable level of specificity.

  15. I think Becker wanted to keep the evaluations controlled to the “years of controversy,” 2008-2010 because the record would probably show that Coppedge was average all along, that he had problems, etc, etc. It would be clear that nothing extraordinary happened to Coppers that wasn’t part of his normal M.O. Just guessing.

  16. Yes but last I checked, discovery wasn’t just ‘everything I want to use in court’, but also ‘everything the opposition might use, so I want to know about in advance.’

    The chances that JPL *wouldn’t* dredge up every earlier negative evaluation, in order to demonstrate that negative evaluations after the blowout in 2009 weren’t a put-up job, was slim-to-none. Therefore any *competent* lawyer would want to know what they were, so that they can get ahead of them, and tailor their story to match.

    Becker’s discovery request was attached to one of the recent documents, and it came across as a rather lazy boiler-plate/cookie-cutter affair, rather than a serious or even mimilally insightful attempt at protecting his client’s interests.

  17. The irony of Team Coppedge umbrage over JPL/Caltech introducing previously undisclosed documents is that the documentation in question harms Coppedge’s case, not helps it. If Team Coppedge had been given the dcuments during discovery, how could it possibly have benefited Coppedge’s case? It doesn’t. It only reinforces the legitimacy of JPL/Caltech’s decision to lay Coppedge off.

    Thus, Team Coppedge’s umbrage reeks of desperation to get out of a trial that is going wildly bad for them. Ultimately, it’s all about geting another trial and another judge, whom they hope will be addled enough to let them play Coppedge’s DVD’s in court, while avoiding almost certain defeat in the current trial.

    Lastly, Team Coppedge’s objections also play into my previous observation that they knew, once the repliminary motions went against them, that they were likely to lose, and thus they are mounting an Umbrage Campaign as part and parcel of their overall strategy to create a PR narrative about how they lost the trial: “Evil activist judge,” “secret evidence we weren’t allowed to see ahead of time,” “the court’s anti-creationist bias,” blah, blah, blah…..

  18. Longie says: “Team Coppedge’s umbrage reeks of desperation to get out of a trial that is going wildly bad for them.”

    More telling, perhaps, is the lack of news coverage. JPL has never talked to the press, so all the news has come from the Coppedge team. They’re silent now, which indicates that things are going so badly that they just don’t want to talk about it.

  19. Meh, the whole thing could have been done in 15 minutes in front of Judge Judy. That would have been cool!