David Coppedge Trial: Some Background

We’re waiting for the judge’s decision in the trial of 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.

Meanwhile, there’s been a new addition to the archive maintained by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), located here: NCSE’s Coppedge archive. They’re scans of pdf files. The “new” item is a Joint Stipulation to Exclude Evidence and Argument at Trial.

Actually, this one isn’t new at all. It was signed by JPL on 30 November 2011 (there’s no signature by Coppedge’s lawyer, but it has Becker’s stamp indicating that it was “digitally signed” on that same date) and then it was filed with the court on 15 February 2012. That was before the trial started on 07 March. It was presumably in effect throughout the trial, but somehow it wasn’t signed by the judge until 26 April 2012 — after the trial ended on 16 April. That’s why it just showed up and was added to the NCSE archive. But it’s interesting, so we’ll discuss it.

It begins by saying that the parties agree that:

… the parties, their counsel, and all witnesses, shall be prohibited at the trial … from offering, making reference to, commenting upon, introducing testimony or documents regarding, or presenting any argument pertaining to:

And what follows is a list of the excluded items. This is of interest for two reasons: (1) it helps to explain why the trial was essentially so boring; and (2) it’ll be useful in the future to rebut any creationist claims that the judge unreasonably excluded Coppedge’s evidence. This pleading memorializes the fact that such exclusions were agreed upon by both sides of the case. (There were also a number of rulings on motions in limine that went against Coppedge, so he’ll still have plenty to complain about.)

The first excluded item is:

1. Any media articles or internet coverage regarding this litigation and/or the events preceding it;

What’s that all about? Such material would be mostly hearsay anyway, and therefore inadmissible. But there were some statements made to the press. JPL maintained silence, so all such statements came from the Coppedge team, and some of it was, in our opinion, injurious to his case — for example, in David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech (18 Feb ’11), we discussed an interview in which it was admitted that Coppedge had approached hundreds of his co-workers with his DVDs. Let’s move on:

2. Any alleged discrimination, retaliation or hostility to personal views purportedly exhibited toward any employee of Caltech other than Coppedge;

We’ll never know what that might have been. Let’s continue:

3. Any discipline or investigation of any employee of Caltech other than Coppedge …

Interesting. Did Coppedge want to show a pattern of “viewpoint discrimination” regarding other creationists? It doesn’t matter, but if his supporters claim that he was improperly prevented from doing so, remember — he agreed to this. Here’s more:

4. Any witness or document not disclosed during the course of depositions or written discovery …

Nothing unusual about that. Moving along:

5. Witnesses’ political affiliation, voting record on Proposition 8, or sexual orientation;

Egad! Well, again, Coppedge agreed to leave that stuff out of the trial. Here’s the next item:

6. Caltech’s financial condition or the amount of punitive damages unless and until the trier of fact (a) returns a verdict in favor of Coppedge awarding actual damages, and (b) finds that Caltech is guilty of malice, oppression, or fraud … . The parties agree that the issue of punitive damages should be bifurcated to a second phase of the trial, if necessary.

We assume that second phase won’t be necessary.

The pleading ends with the parties’ agreement to exclude any reference to NASA’s Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Expression in the Federal Workplace — unless Coppedge had mentioned it to others, and even then, it had to be made clear that NASA’s rules don’t apply to Caltech. You may recall that Coppedge (or his supporters) tried to make a fuss over NASA’s rules, but apparently he and his lawyers finally realized that Coppedge worked for Caltech, not NASA.

So there you are. A bit of interesting background that helped to shape the trial into being what it was — a routine employment case.

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

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4 responses to “David Coppedge Trial: Some Background

  1. The availability of all these filings online must make it much more difficult for the DI to spin the trial. Imagine what they would be writing if these documents were not available.

    Is it my imagination or have they been quiet on this issue lately?

  2. Ed says: “Imagine what they would be writing if these documents were not available.”

    They’re rather creative anyway, but if they had it all their way they’d be amazingly unrestrained. I wish more people blogged about this stuff, but we do seem to keep a lid on them.

  3. Ed: “Is it my imagination or have they been quiet on this issue lately?”

    You want quiet, check their spin on the Freshwater case over the last ~4 years. Have they said even one word?

  4. Tomato Addict

    Perhaps a silly question, but are NASA’s rules so different that Coppedge still wouldn’t be wrong?