Multiple media sources report that the judge in David Coppedge’s suit against the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has tentatively ruled against Mr. Coppedge and in favor of JPL.
As reported in previous entries on this blog, Coppedge was employed as a System’s Administrator at JPL. His suit claims that he was the victim of discrimination and adverse employment actions as the result of his alleged on the job discussions of Intelligent Design. The parties agreed to waive a jury and have the judge both listen to the evidence and decide the case. After months of testimony, and a summer-long wait, the judge informed the parties of his belief that Coppedge was not dismissed because of his promotion of ID, but because he was combative and did not keep his skills sharp.
The order makes no substantive statement other than that the court intends to rule in favor of the JPL on all causes of action asserted by Mr. Coppedge. It then orders that the JPL put together a statement of decision.
This is typical in a case tried directly to a judge (i.e., without a jury). At the end of the case the judge will typically gather the parties and notify them orally (or by a short letter) that he intends to rule in favor of one side. He may or may not give more details or insights into the basis of his decision. It is common for the judge to then tell the lawyers for the winning party to put together a proposed decision to be used as a draft of the court’s final order. If the other side has disagreements with the proposed order it can notify the judge, who then takes the proposed judgment, the comments of the other side, and writes the final version.
There are two reasons for this. Obviously, it takes time and effort to write a lengthy decision. By delegating the task to the winning party, the judge has one less thing to do. Secondly, judges realizes that no one knows the case better than the lawyers. In this case, he realizes that no one can write a better order in favor of JPL, than JPL.
So JPL will write a proposed order exonerating itself, Coppedge will object to it, and the judge will then modify it as he feels necessary and sign off on it as the court’s final decision. The problem with this is that he will be signing off on JPL’s spin on the case. We may never learn what the judge himself actually thought.I will report on the content of the actual decision when it is issued.