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  • Writer's picturePhil Griffis

Intelligent Design Suit-Pretrial Motion Warfare, Part 1

Pretrial rulings can be devastating to a party in a civil lawsuit. A key witness could be excluded for failure to appropriately and timely designate him.  A case determinative document could be barred from evidence for a party’s failure to timely produce it to the other side. An expert witness’ opinions could be stricken due to the court’s finding that those opinions are not relevant or not based upon a reliable foundation. (i.e., “junk science”).

The parties to the Coppedge “Intelligent Design”(“ID”) suit took their pretrial maneuvering to a new level.  As previously discussed, Coppedge’s suit alleges that he was treated adversely by his employer, Caltech, due to his beliefs in, and discussions of, Intelligent Design.  Caltech’s pretrial motions to exclude evidence were particularly aggressive.   Caltech’s filings stated its belief that “Coppedge and his supporters at the Alliance Defense Fund and the Discovery Institute have viewed this case as a means to promote and publicize Intelligent Design”. And Caltech’s  pretrial motions asked the judge to bar Coppedge from introducing evidence which, in Caltech’s opinion, constituted blatant promotion of ID.   Typically such motions provide insight into what evidence the parties believe will be harmful to them, if it his seen/heard by the jury.  So it can be inferred that, for some reason, Caltech did not want the jury to hear the evidence it sought to have excluded.  Among the pretrial motions were:

1. Caltech’s motion seeking to exclude from evidence the fact that Coppedge was justified in passing out DVD’s or discussing ID, during work hours, because of JPL’s and NASA’s research on the origins of life.  Caltech’s motion stated that it anticipated that Coppedge would argue that he was justified in promoting Intelligent Design at the workplace, because JPL and/or NASA conducted programs exploring the origins or life. Caltech argued that the judge should not allow Coppedge to even present evidence of this, because he was a Systems Administrator, charged with the responsibility to service the Cassini projects computers. As such, Caltech argued, debating scientific issues (including the origins of life) was not a part of Coppedge’s job responsibilities. Caltech contended that evidence of such “harassing” conduct on Coppedge part would confuse the jury and prejudice Caltech.

2. Caltech’s motion seeking to bar Coppedge from playing for the jury the contents of the videos he passed out at work, pertaining to ID and Christianity.  Once again, Caltech claimed that doing so would confuse the jury and prejudice Caltech.  Apparently, Coppedge distributed some of these videos at the laboratory.  Others were not.  Coppedge apparent intent to show videos which he never distributed at work lends support to Caltech’s claim that he intended to use the trial as a promotional vehicle for his views.

3. Caltech’s motion seeking to bar Coppedge from testifying about his subjective opinion of his own job performance.  Caltech believed that he intended to testify about his own job performance, in an effort to prove that the real basis of his layoff were his religious views.   Caltech argued that it did not “matter whether Caltech was right or wrong in determining that Coppedge was not the most qualified “Systems Administrator”, so long as its actions were non-discriminatory.

4. Caltech’s motion seeking to bar Coppedge from testifying that he was a victim of “viewpoint discrimination”.  According to the motion, viewpoint discrimination refers to “government speech restrictions that target no subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers on a subject”.  Caltech argued that Coppedge’s suit made no claim of such discrimination.  It also argued that Caltech had given Coppedge a (later rescinded) written warning because of the “manner” of his speech, and not the content of it.  A JPL supervisor apparently testified that it had “no issue with people discussing religion and politics in the office so long as it’s not unwelcome or disruptive”.

This only scratches the surface of the pretrial maneuvering.  More next week.


Phil Griffis obtained his first jury verdict in 1990, when he convinced a jury that a customer’s fall at his client’s store did not cause the customer’s aspiration pneumonia and stroke. In the years since he has continued to win in courtrooms across the State of Texas.

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