Coppedge verdict lost in space

Justice delayed is justice denied, goes the old saying, and a rover could just about reach from the United States to Mars in the time a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has been mulling the evidence in the case of a JPL worker who accused the La Cañada Flintridge lab of religious intolerance.

On the surface, the case is fascinating: Is a leading U.S. institution of astronomy and space exploration a hostile environment for those who entertain the idea that a divine force created the universe?

In the details, it is more mundane: David Coppedge apparently was not a model among space program administrators, and was let go at a time JPL was shedding hundreds of jobs because of budget constraints. It certainly appears from testimony and evidence that his persistent efforts to spread information about the theory of intelligent design were a source of unease among some co-workers, but it is up to Judge Ernest Hiroshige to decide whether this caused Coppedge’s dismissal.

Without a jury, Hiroshige took evidence in March and April. Surely a jury would not have taken six months to decide this relatively routine employment case. Or even six weeks. Or, likely, even six days. Yet Coppedge and JPL wait.

The Los Angeles Superior Court system is burdened by budget cuts and staff reductions, and when that happens the civil docket is slowed the most because of the constitutional imperatives toward a speedy trial for those facing criminal charges. But even so, six months to render a verdict is extraordinary.

It took a little more than eight months for JPL’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, to get from Earth to Mars. Will it take that long for David Coppedge’s lawsuit to get from opening statements to a verdict?

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