Coppedge Trial: Crickets Chirping

Another week has passed, and although the trial ended on 16 April — almost five months ago — we still don’t have the court’s decision in 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.

There is a news story today, but it’s not much. Before we get to it, let’s remember that most of the press coverage of this case has been awful. Unfortunately, some of the really bad stories have come from the Pasadena Sun located in La Cañada Flintridge, California — where JPL is headquartered.

News stories have frequently claimed that Coppedge worked for NASA (he didn’t), that the case was against NASA (it wasn’t), that the trial was about intelligent design (not true), that Coppedge was some kind of scientist (he wasn’t), that he had been the lead systems administrator on JPL’s Cassini project to Saturn (he was the “team lead” of the computer maintenance personnel), and he was involved in exploring Saturn and its moons (he explored nothing). The journalists have been writing about the guy as if he were Wernher von Braun.

We had also been told that a decision was coming in June, and we wrote about that here: David Coppedge Trial: Decision Next Week? — but that wasn’t terribly accurate.

In fairness to the press, a large part of their problem is that no one has been assigned full time to the trial, and without that they’re not very good at reporting about civil litigation. There was a time, long ago, when almost all lawyers followed what was then the honorable code of not trying their cases in the newspapers. They would reserve their remarks for the courtroom, where events would speak for themselves. Promoting one’s case in the press was regarded as unprofessional conduct. Then came the 1960s, with sometimes violent protests against the Vietnam War, the emergence of the counter-culture, and a type of lawyer who didn’t merely represent, but who actually agreed with his rebellious client.

A whole new phenomenon was born — the counter-culture lawyer who became a media personality, and who praised his client’s behavior (draft-card burning or whatever). Nowadays that’s pretty much the norm, and trial lawyers who avoid the press are virtually unknown — unless you’ve got one of them in your family to tell you how things used to be and who grumbles about how everything is going to hell.

Anyway, what we’ve got here in the Coppedge case is not only a dismissed creationist employee, but we’ve also got a clash of style. JPL’s attorneys have steadfastly remained dedicated to trying their case in court, not in the press. All the news stories are apparently based either on interviews with Coppedge’s lawyers, or else the media’s “information” comes from press releases, blog articles, and interviews provided by creationist activists, mostly the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

Well, the same newspaper that told us the case would be decided in June — and the same reporter, Daniel Siegal — have another story out today. We present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from Man’s case against JPL drags on, which appears in the Pasadena Sun — JPL’s hometown newspaper. The bold font was added by us:

Four-and-a-half months have passed since lawyers last argued in a courtroom whether Jet Propulsion Laboratory discriminated against a former worker on religious grounds, but lawyers for both sides continue to argue the case.

Over the course of five post-trial briefs, attorneys for JPL and David Coppedge, a one-time administrator on the Cassini mission to Saturn, have recapped and refined their arguments.

Coppedge is still being described as “a one-time administrator on the Cassini mission to Saturn.” That’s true, in a way, but it still overstates his role. Anyway, the story continues:

On Aug. 28 Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, filed papers addressing the legal definition of workplace retaliation.


In his papers, Becker said JPL’s conduct meets either standard. He said the question might be most important if Hiroshige’s ruling is appealed to a higher court. “It tees it up as an appealable issue,” Becker said. “The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what test you use, because the facts support retaliation under either case.”

We know about that brief. We wrote about it here: Coppedge Trial: Will It Ever End? Let’s read on — hey, we’re given some information from the JPL side of the case:

JPL lawyers argued at trial that Coppedge’s views about the origins of the universe had nothing to do with his 2010 demotion or 2011 dismissal.

We already knew that, but it’s rare to see it mentioned in the press. Let’s continue:

Cameron Fox, one of JPL’s attorneys, said JPL will not submit a response to Becker’s Aug. 28 papers. As to when [Judge] Hiroshige will rule, neither side had an idea.

Wow — that’s actually news from both sides! Here’s the article’s end:

“I’ve asked some really good lawyers [when the judge will rule] and nobody knows the answer,” Becker said. “One lawyer told me it’s as long as he wants to take. It could take a year, two years.

Don’t be surprised to see a ruling this month, dear reader. Maybe even this coming week.

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

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5 responses to “Coppedge Trial: Crickets Chirping

  1. I woke up this morning to find my Specu-la-Tron flashing! Somewhere on the Interwasteland speculation was needed!

    Quick, Arthur, prepare the Specu-la-Mobile, we’ve got speculatin’ to do!

    Retaliation. The only thing that Coppers can call “retaliation” is the layoff. His entire drama about a fake “demotion” is all water under the bridge. His only recourse is to claim that JPL retaliated against him for filing the employee grievance lawsuit. Retaliation requires a protected activity and filing a suit against your employer is a protected activity. I may have missed the tree from Becker’s forest, but I don’t have the impression that his case rests on retaliation by layoff. It seemed to me they were still focused on Coppy’s aberrant behavior.

    From the court papers the JPL layoff process appeared to be thorough and fair. Coppers didn’t have the skill set needed by JPL going forward. I have not read of any other suits arising from the layoff which, as you recall, was announced two years ago, so it wasn’t a surprise.

    I would think Copp-the-Mop’s case for JPL retaliating against him for bugging employees to pieces is weak for several reasons. First, the only action JPL took was to assign someone else the hokey “team lead” position. Copp did not lose grade nor pay. He certainly coped with the situation for a full year before (being pressured by the DI, I speculate) filing a grievance claim. Second, the letter of reprimand or whatever was removed from his file and no longer an impediment, if it ever was, to a potential job move or promotion.

    One should note that our little Coppy was not exactly a ball of fire. He fermented there near the bottom of the IT food chain never rising to any position of responsibility, supervisory, managerial or otherwise. So, this little HR incident was not exactly a career stopper.

    I think Coppedge is going to lose then appeal. He has nothing to gain by simply accepting defeat so long as his legal bills are being paid by the DI and other creationist sympathizers. Sorry, Curmie, but this is going to be a topic for at least the next four years!

  2. docbill1351 says: “I woke up this morning to find my Specu-la-Tron flashing!”

    I gotta get me one of those!

  3. As long as we’re speculatin’, I not sure how eager Becker are to appeal this case and spend even more money on it. They appeared not to expect this to go to trial in the first place, and I’m sure they had not counted on such a vigorous defense by JPL. They can expect that defense to continue.

    Also, if they do appeal based on a straightforward retaliation argument, there will be little if any opportunity to present their ID discrimination material, so an appeal would have little show-trial propaganda value. They would just be rolling the dice, and appealing on a pretty thin basis hoping to collect some money at the end. They may conclude that it isn’t worth the risk.

  4. Initially, Coppedge wanted a letter of apology, a letter declaring that JPL policies were unconstitutional, wrong and illegal and bad and made him cry, and a permanent injunction allowing him to talk about ID, sing about ID, chant about ID, mime about ID and, most of all, sell his DVD’s. Oh, and he wanted his hokey “team lead” position back. At this time, recall, he was still employed.

    He modified the complaint after the layoff to wrongful termination, scrapped most of the apology letter stuff but kept the injunction to allow him to bug people forever and ever and ever and ever. And sell his DVD’s. That and back pay, you made me cry pay, fees, shipping and handling, and batteries.

  5. The Coppedge case reminds me of yet another Biblical smokescreen: Obsequious martyrdom.

    We all know what it’s like to be pestered at work or another social milieu by repugnant creeps like Coppedge; they are the slackers (having no conscience regarding their obligations to employers), dullards, and insubordinates (often due, no doubt, to personality disorders) who take mighty offense to imagined slights and then demonstrate astonishing motivation and focus when paving a “high road” for themselves. They feign pride when really they have none, for they are grifters. The courts are now being used and manipulated in a similarly disingenuous way as C’s past employer, and it is a galling spectacle to observe – and speculate.