A Case about Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation over Intelligent Design
An employee at JPL was disciplined, demoted, and terminated for sharing DVDs about intelligent design (ID) with co-workers. The case is reminiscent of the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
(2008) featuring Ben Stein.
David Coppedge worked for 14 years as a System Administrator (SA) for the Cassini program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in California. For 9 consecutive years he was Team Lead of the SA’s, in charge of most of the computers for the prestigious mission to Saturn. David worked on Cassini from before launch (October 1997) into the Second Extended Mission (2011).
Coppedge would, occasionally, share DVDs on intelligent design with willing co-workers. The DVDs, produced by Illustra Media
(for whom David is a board member and researcher) present scientific evidence for design without reference to religion. They include:
— Unlocking the Mystery of Life
, examining evidence for design in life, the cell and DNA.
— The Privileged Planet
, exploring evidence for design in the Earth and the universe (this documentary includes interviews with 4 JPL scientists).
He had also given out a few flyers in favor of California’s Proposition 8 (the traditional marriage initiative) before the 2008 election.Triggering Incident
. On March 2, 2009, one co-worker complained to Coppedge’s office manager about the DVD, saying that she felt harassed by David’s “religion and politics” (referring to ID and Prop 8). The manager confronted David and accused him of “pushing religion,” claiming a “number of people” had complained. He shouted, “Intelligent design is religion!” and ordered Coppedge to stop discussing religion or politics in the office under threat of termination.
Coppedge responded that he would comply, but stated that the order got into issues of freedom of speech and religion and could be construed as creating a hostile work environment. He did not file a complaint. The manager, however, immediately reported him to other managers and Human Resources (HR). HR investigated Coppedge for harassment. On April 13, he was issued a Written Warning, alleging he was in violation of JPL’s Harassment and Ethics Policies. He was simultaneously demoted from Team Lead.
While pursuing internal remedies at JPL and appealing the discipline, Coppedge called the Alliance Defending Freedom
(ADF). William J. Becker, Jr., an ADF affiliate attorney, responded, serving JPL a Demand Letter in Sept. 2009. JPL did not respond for 7 months. Becker filed suit on April 14, 2010, alleging discrimination for “perceived religion” (even though ID is science, not religion).Termination
. Eight months later, on January 24, 2011, Coppedge was abruptly terminated and escorted off lab. Subsequent depositions showed that the decision makers had been meeting with JPL counsel specifically about the lawsuit and layoff process from the time the lawsuit was filed. In March, Becker amended the lawsuit to include Retaliation. Later that year, Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige denied the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, and trial was set in California Superior Court.Trial
. Both sides opted for a bench trial rather than a jury. The trial began March 9, 2012, and continued for 5 weeks through April 16, with 22 witnesses testifying. Defense attorneys argued the case had nothing to do with ID, but that Coppedge was let go due to a planned reduction in workforce and for performance/communication issues. Plaintiff witnesses disputed the performance complaints, while Becker argued that Coppedge’s treatment followed a pattern of discrimination against advocates of intelligent design.Media
. The case attracted international media attention and was monitored by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a pro-evolution group, whose mission is to keep “creationism” and ID out of public schools. The Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank in Seattle, supported the case, along with ADF. Coppedge and Becker had to file more briefs and wait 9 months for the verdict.
In January 2013, Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige of the California Superior Court ruled against Coppedge on all 10 counts, offering no explanation. JPL then demanded $51,000 in court costs. An appeal was discussed (as a state case, the highest appeal was California Supreme Court), but with Coppedge now broke, out of work and facing cancer surgery, and with little hope of success on appeal, he was advised by ADF to settle with JPL for elimination of court costs. Nevertheless, public awareness of ID was raised by this case. Coppedge’s story is scheduled to be included in Vol. 3 of Slaughter of the Dissidents
by Dr. Jerry Bergman.
— More information on the Coppedge vs JPL case can be found on www.EvolutionNews.org
, a Discovery Institute blog. --
Thanks to Kevin Conover of Educate for Life for the chance to tell my story on KPRZ radio (San Diego) this month. We recorded about an hour in studio on Sept. 1, 2016; it aired a couple of days later. The interview, videotaped in studio, has been posted online.See Highlight (4.5 minutes) on YouTube.
See entire interview (about 45 minutes) at EducateForLife.org.
Kevin is a bright and articulate host, who has a lot going on in his own life and ministry. Not only is he up to speed on many issues in creation and intelligent design, having interviewed many leading spokespeople for those subjects and family issues, he is also running for a local school board in San Diego County.
In the interview, we talk about my youth and parents' ministry, how I got interested in creation, my experience at JPL, the trial and its results, and my cancer surgery and recovery. We also talk about Illustra Media's films and I share amazing news from science.
I appreciated Kevin's enthusiastic promotion of Creation-Evolution Headlines and Illustra Media. His own website, EducateForLife.org, is loaded with resources, includ- ing an apologetics curriculum called Unshakeable Faith, to help families, students and adults deal with the issues of our day. His staff regularly witnesses to people in public places. I hope you will support his ministry and his run for school board. Like me, he believes in standing for the truth and making a difference.
Thanks to David Klinghoffer, editor at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, for a kindly article in Evolution News & Views
following up on the World Magazine
Discovery Institute did more than provide moral support during my JPL trial. They sent down a legal assistant to help my lawyer, evaluated transcripts of depositions, and publicized why the case was important. I am grateful to all the staff for their help then and continued moral support now.
How much are you willing to lose to defend freedom or oppose injustice? Jesus spoke of “counting the cost” before setting out to do battle. It’s something I had to think about very hard before taking on JPL for violating my rights and freedoms. It was going to be a “David vs Goliath” contest, with no assurance I would be as victorious as my Biblical namesake.
As it was, I did lose, and it cost me dearly. Five years ago today, I lost my job, and three years ago this month, I lost the case. Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again? Should I have done it in the first place?
Let me say at the outset that I am not complaining. The Lord's grace has been abundant since the trial ended. Even though I am only earning about a quarter of what I made at JPL, I have a small house, a good car, enough food, and I have the ability to earn a living, even with cancer. Coincidentally (and I believe this was providential), my last mortgage payment was made one month before I was fired. With that large expense done, I am able to pay my monthly bills with a slight margin, not enough to save for major purchases, but enough to get by. Now, I can work from home on things I enjoy and consider worthwhile. So far my health is good with the monthly treatments I get, and I have many friends and family members who keep me encouraged. Life is good. God is good. I am very thankful!
Nevertheless, anybody considering taking a stand needs to consider the possible downside, materially speaking. Spiritually, of course, one can always be reassured that God’s ultimate will is done even through suffering. Many people far more deserving of justice have suffered far worse. I got just a taste of suffering when within six days I lost the case and got diagnosed with cancer.
I remember back in April 2009 when I first contacted ADF and spoke with Bill Becker, my lawyer. I wanted to know what this could cost me. As we prepared to sign a contract, Bill reassured me that he was taking this case on contingency (pro bono), so I would not have to pay for his services unless I broke contract with him.
Also, we had reason to believe ADF would fund the case. A multitude of others encouraged me to move forward, agreeing this was a worthy cause. I don’t think either of us at the time knew what to expect. Meanwhile, Bill assured me that JPL would probably not risk firing me while litigation was pending. That would be evidence for a wrongful termination claim.
But they did fire me — over a year before the court trial began. It was January 24, 2011. The Deputy Section Manager appeared at my cubicle as I was busily at work. He called me to an empty office, and gave me a little time to gather my things. They had already blocked my computer access. I was taken out the door, and driven to my car. No going-away party for me; ha! They had even cleared the floor so that I could not say good-bye to anyone.
Before that grim day, I was earning a six-figure salary. At my previous job as an operations manager, I had reached an annual salary of $60,000 with benefits. When I first came to JPL in 1996, I was offered $72,000 by a company contracting IT employees for the lab. Each subsequent year I received hefty raises without ever asking for them. When I transitioned to JPL employee status in 2003, I received another significant raise. Each year the pay continued to climb—a fact that stands against the portrayal by JPL’s lawyers that I was a poor or mediocre worker who didn't get along with people. The only years I didn’t get a substantial raise was when nobody at the lab got one, because of the 2009 financial crisis and its aftermath. My final pay rate was almost $125,000 plus benefits worth perhaps $30,000 more: health care, life insurance, accident insurance, sick leave, and 4 weeks paid vacation. One of the most significant benefits in my final years was 12% matching on my contributions to my IRA—very high compared to industry standards. Suffering a headache in the courthouse
That all came to a screeching halt the day I was let go. JPL gave me $30,000 separation pay (typical for anyone laid off with my length of service), and from then on, I was on my own, too busy to find a job elsewhere because of the intense work with Bill on the case. It’s kind of laughable to me that JPL’s lawyers argued to the judge that I was not seriously looking for work, therefore did not receive compensation if I were to win.
There was just no way. Having no staff, Bill relied on me for the equivalent of a full-time job as we prepared for trial. Plus, I was sick with cancer and didn’t know it. I also had debilitating headaches almost every day without knowing the cause. Several times during trial we had to take breaks until I got well enough to continue.
Bill hired an expert witness who calculated my losses at $860,238, because I was planning to work until the end of Cassini’s mission in 2017. Six years of lost salary alone is $750,000, but then there were the matching contributions to my IRA that ceased, the health insurance, and the other benefits. Actual losses would have to deduct what I’ve earned since the layoff, but health care costs rose substantially. I had to find a private health insurance plan a year later when the COBRA benefits expired. In 2015 my premiums were over $1,000 a month out of pocket (thank you, “Affordable Care Act”). JPL would have paid most of my insurance and my cancer treatments as well as providing sick leave or short term disability while I recovered. Los Angeles Superior Courthouse
Then there were other costs I haven’t disclosed till now.
In October of 2011, right after the judge had given his tentative ruling on Summary Judgment, indicating he was inclined to throw out our case, I took Bill to lunch with a heavy heart. I told him how bad I felt that his one-and-a-half years’ worth of work to date appeared to be down the drain. I offered him $50,000 out of my retirement savings as a token of friendship and support, knowing he deserved far more for his professional expertise and devotion to the work. He was grateful and hesitant to take it, but I insisted.
That gift, however, didn’t do him any good. Shortly afterward, the judge reversed himself on Summary Judgment. We had a case! The next thing Bill and I learned was how many fees a plaintiff must pay for his day in court. Those fees quickly ate up the $50,000 and then some (so much for “equal justice under the law.”). We were both scrambling to pay for this fee and that. ADF helped out with three grants, totaling about $30,000, but the rest we had to pay out of our own pockets. A main reason we opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial was that we couldn’t afford the extra cost; jury members must be paid, and that comes out of the plaintiff's pocket. Paying 14 jurors for 5 weeks would have been substantial. As it was, Bill and I were both pouring money into this effort. We believed in our case, and hoped that a victory would reimburse us. Bill was fresh from his large settlement in the AFA vs California Science Center case, and may have felt a bit overconfident he could win this one, at least on some of the 10 counts.
The outcome knocked our breath away. The judge ruled against us on all counts without explanation. Then, already depressed with the news of my cancer diagnosis 6 days earlier, I was threatened with having to pay JPL’s court costs to the tune of $51,000 on top of everything else. I felt like a wounded warrior being kicked on the ground. I felt equally bad for Bill, having received no compensation for nearly three years of hard, stressful work.
In the days of deciding whether to appeal, I drove to ADF’s headquarters in Arizona to ask the advice of their lead attorneys. They were very kind and understanding, but strongly advised against appealing. Bill was raring to go, but grew to agree, after many discussions with ADF and other trusted lawyers, that it was probably unlikely to succeed under the best of circumstances. And with me facing major cancer surgery within weeks, the best possible outcome, they said, was to settle with JPL not to charge me for their court costs if we would agree not to appeal. So, reluctantly, that’s what I did. I signed away any right to carry the case forward. This also ended Bill’s last chance to be compensated for his legal work.
Before going in for surgery, I wanted to express my appreciation to ADF, too, for supporting the case. I thought of all their donors that had given faithfully small amounts for years. In my case, their gifts ended up supporting a loss. A long-time supporter of ADF myself, I couldn’t repay $30,000, but I offered what I could, $10,000, as a one-time donation from my retirement savings, as a token of my appreciation. Someday I hope I can give them more.
I wish I could pay all those who worked so hard on this case, especially Bill Becker. Right now, though, I’m just covering my living expenses, even after having pared back spending significantly (e.g., no TV, rarely eating out, keeping lights off, etc.) Most of my earned income goes to medical insurance and doctor bills, which cost me over $21,000 last year out of pocket. I’m sure my accusers and teammates on Cassini, though, are living well.
In short, you can see that I took a very significant financial hit for my stand. It’s hard to quantify, but $800,000 to a million dollars could be defended as a reasonable figure for my personal financial losses from the case. That’s much more than the total retirement income I have left after almost 40 years of full-time work since college. The fact that Cassini is still flying well and is expected to end on schedule in 2017 means I would probably still be at JPL working the mission till then, considering that I was the Team Lead with the most tenure and experience. My demotion and layoff would never have occurred, I believe, except for the discrimination and retaliation mounted against me for the high crime and misdemeanor of sharing DVDs on intelligent design with co-workers. After returning home from the hospital
I realize that some readers may wish they could trade places with me financially. This is a hard time for many people. Again, let me stress I am content with God and his grace. I haven’t shed blood like many of my Christian brethren in the Middle East. I still have my head attached to my neck. I have a good amount of health. I have shelter, food and clothing that is adequate. In addition, I have even more opportunities now to share the message of creation, intelligent design and the gospel than before. I’m joyful and grateful for my present circumstances. I never asked for a high salary or wealth, so I can't complain when it evaporated. I just wanted to be financially responsible so as not to be a burden on anyone in my senior years. We must all work hard, but trust the Lord for our sustenance. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!
The losses I have described above are directly attributable to taking a stand against JPL's discrimination. Would I have made the same decision now, knowing now that it was going to cost nearly a million dollars? It’s a hard question, but several things give me hope that it was worth it.
"The fact is, and you can quote me, you are the rare individual courageous enough to fight to vindicate your rights. I know other people who would, but many more who would rather preserve their secure but unhappy circumstances." — Bill Becker, Jan 8, 2016.
- For one, I probably would have been laid off anyway over the DVD matter without ever learning about JPL’s schemes. Court testimony showed that Chin and Mitchell heard gossip about my DVD lending and were upset about it.
- Secondly, I’ve learned many important lessons about our legal system, about life and my relationship with God through these experiences.
- Third, I know there are many Christians around the world who were encouraged by my stand in spite of the unhappy ending.
- Fourth, my trial brought together exceptional legal expertise and prayer support from around the world that was amazing to see.
- Fifth, “intelligent design” made global headlines through this case. Even among my detractors, I suspect there were many who sympathized with my situation. I can hear them whispering, “He lost his job over that?”
- And lastly, I’ve seen that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think if we stand true to Him, even if it costs in material terms. My church and various friends pitched in to help me financially when I was under the most strain. Opportunities came to me. I've bounced back and enjoy every new morning.
Tony Perkins of Family Research Council ends his daily podcasts with the challenge of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: “When you’ve done all that you can do, by all means, keep standing.
” Paul knew what it feels like to be knocked down, but not knocked out. I hope my experience will encourage others to stand for the right no matter the cost. Sooner or later, I believe, someone is going to win a substantial case against Darwinian bigotry. The case of Martin Gaskell
and Bill Becker's hefty settlement in the AFA case
against the California Science Center have put them on notice that discrimination against those who support intelligent design can be costly.
P.S. Bill Becker and I both appreciate your ongoing prayers and support. Please read my science news service Creation-Evolution Headlines
, and buy Illustra Media
’s great films. Consider becoming a regular donor to Bill Becker's FreedomX non-profit 501(c)(3) public policy law firm where he continues the fight for Freedom of “X”pression wherever injustice threatens our precious liberties.
We're coming up on 3 years since Judge Hiroshige ruled against me. Some may not have seen the response of Bill Becker, my ADF-affiliated attorney, who wrote this on January 16, 2013.
David and I are naturally disappointed in the court's decision, the unnecessary lengthy delay in reaching it and, after such a lengthy time, the judge's inability to write the decision himself, or at least explain the contradictions in the evidence....
By failing to address the evidence personally, thoughtfully and carefully, the judge in this case left the door wide open to have the judgment overturned on appeal.
David was the victim of religious discrimination because a handful of malicious co-workers hated his Christian views, as well as his interest in intelligent design, which they ignorantly perceived to be a religious concept. He was demoted and fired for simply being a Christian and someone who believes that nature can be scientifically explained by reference to designs found within it.
This case took more than three years to litigate. Judge Ernest Hiroshige sat through five weeks of trial last March and April, observed dozens of witnesses, admitted a mountain of evidence, listened to closing arguments, required voluminous post-trial briefing that delayed a ruling by nine months, and never once accepted the responsibility of expressing his view of the evidence. Instead, he farmed the task out to JPL.
By rubber-stamping JPL's ghost-written decision, Judge Hiroshige demonstrated how easy it is to collect a paycheck from the taxpayers without actually having to do the work of a judge. At the end of the day, we still have no clue how the judge really felt about the evidence.
It is really remarkable that the judge could sit there for five weeks and still not have the fortitude to tell us what he thinks. This was anything but a bold act, but we will leave it for others to describe it for what it appears to be.
Under state law, we filed specific objections to JPL's statement of decision, which required the judge to reconcile JPL's evidence with our evidence contradicting it. By overruling our objections without giving a reason, the judge has all but handed us a victory on appeal.
As for the community of rabid anti-intelligent design forces that snicker and snark at the concept and ignorantly confuse and conflate it with Creationism, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the demise of this case would be greatly exaggerated.
Bill was raring to go on appeal, but I had just been diagnosed with cancer, and the ADF attorneys doubted the efficacy of an appeal given my condition and the hesitancy of appellate courts to reverse lower courts without evidence of extreme incompetence. Reluctantly, we had to call it quits.
Our loss is not a reflection on Bill or ADF, who put in heroic efforts on my case. Despite being understaffed and underfunded compared to JPL's crack legal team; "we were contending with the liberal judge with his mind basically made up," Bill reminded me today. And we were not alone in losing an important religious liberty case. "Look at Kim Davis. She had Liberty Counsel working for her. Or Elane Photography (the best attorneys at ADF), or Sweet Cakes (same)."
But there are important victories, too. On Family Research Council's Washington Watch this week (January 6)
Ken Kuklowski and Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute shared great news of victories in recent cases, and also gave optimistic opinions about some important upcoming cases.
Our rights will erode away unless there are courageous individuals and self-sacrificing attorneys willing to defend them. You can support Bill Becker by donating to FreedomX, a 501(c)(3) non-profit public interest law firm
. Your gifts are tax deductible. In the "Right Column" of the FreedomX home page are valuable news items about religious liberty issues, showing that the need is greater than ever.
At first glance to most people, it would seem a court would want all evidence to be available. That was certainly my assumption; I had nothing to hide, so lay it all out there, I naively thought. Would that human nature could accept that. Our adversarial system of justice is built on the notion that men are not angels. We lack the holiness that would make matters of justice obvious to everyone. As it is, disputing parties have to fight it out at every stage and trust a referee who is fallible, too. Except for law, a court trial would be more like a game of rugby or two-man pinball than justice with a capital J. But even applicable laws can be selectively cited. It's the best we can expect in a fallen world. One important play is the skirmish between the parties on what evidence should be presented at trial. Sometimes evidence that is disallowed or withheld can bias the outcome JPL's legal offices in downtown L.A.
Dealing the Cards Darwin fish found on JPL scientist's door
The first step in evidence gathering is discovery. Each side is supposed to present all documents that bear on the case. In practice, however, there is subjective interpretation about what constitutes relevant evidence. One side could flood the other side with stuff that has little or no bearing on the issues, swamping their ability to sort through it all.
JPL should have had every relevant document about me in their own records, but my lawyer and I provided much of it anyway. Fortunately, I had kept some very hot emails that supported my case, but there were also hundreds of normal everyday work emails that didn't bear on the issues involved. So I hunted for keywords and key people, and supplied everything that had to do with the case. We presented 571 documents to JPL's lawyers. When they learned in deposition that I had kept personal notebooks of my work, they wanted all of them, too, even though 95% of the material (or more) was just incomprehensible computer geek-talk, task lists, and records of meetings. They had the manpower to go on a fishing expedition for incriminating evidence about me or my work, and made hay of it during depositions and at trial. You'll see in a minute that my ability to counter their interpretations was limited, due to other rules of evidence.
Cartoon mocking Prop 8 on a JPL scientist's door
The first data dump of discovery documents is often incomplete, so I provided additional documents as their possible relevance reached my awareness, such as JPL announcements about lectures on the origin of life, additional emails, or photos I took of "Darwin fish" on the doors of JPL scientists (right).The Delayed Fuse
JPL's lawyers, however, committed a serious blunder, omitting highly relevant emails almost a year after initial discovery, right as Becker and I were completing our important "Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment" in September 2011. I remember the situation well. Bill and I were working feverishly out of his home office to get the legal brief done before the deadline, supported by 88 pages of supporting arguments, when JPL's lead attorney Jim Zapp sent a little "whoops" message, saying they had inadvertently omitted 13 emails in discovery 10 months earlier. Bill asked me to see what was in them while he continued typing. Some were boring, but a couple of them almost burned my fingers. I told Bill, "You might want to look at this." Stopping to read them, he came the closest to swearing as I had seen. Here was incriminating evidence that HR (human resources), my boss, my group supervisor, and the Cassini Program Manager were conspiring to get me off the program or fired—within 38 days after Greg Chin's tirade! (see The Triggering Incident
.) One HR employee wrote, "I think we need to
ensure that there is no retaliation going on."
Becker fired off an angry email to Zapp, saying, "On the evening before opposition to your summary judgment motion was to be filed, you dropped a bombshell in my lap." It meant that some of the witnesses may have perjured themselves in their depositions. "Your client, JPL, and specifically HR, withheld a key piece of evidence that contradicts testimony in this case and may require me to redepose virtually everyone," he wrote. Sheepishly, Zapp accepted that the trial would have be delayed so that additional depositions could be taken. Conveniently for JPL, most of HR's witnesses had forgotten those emails when they were brought in to testify, now that 2.5 years had passed since they were written. One HR lady literally said "I don't remember" to every question. This episode illustrates how timely production of documents is vital to getting a fair trial.
Limine Cricket Coppedge's JPL notebooks
Motions in Limine (rhymes with "jiminy"), or MIL, are requests that parties make to the court to try to exclude evidence. You heard me right. For various reasons, parties to a trial believe certain evidence to be prejudicial or irrelevant. JPL's lawyers, for instance, opposed our intent to show the DVD's "The Privileged Planet" and "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" to the jury. They opposed our presenting an expert witness on intelligent design. They opposed mentioning that other people had suffered discrimination for their views on ID, as shown in the movie Expelled. They wanted to exclude any reference to "viewpoint discrimination". They wanted to exclude any testimony that my activities were justified because JPL conducts research and activities on the "origin of life."
For our part, we wanted to exclude testimony regarding Proposition 8 (California's "gay-marriage" initative) on the grounds that jurors in Los Angeles might be too prejudiced by that hot issue to be able to address the larger issue of free speech. We wanted to exclude testimony by a JPL economist claiming that I didn't look hard enough for a new job after I was fired. We wanted to exclude "cumulative and irrelevant defendant witnesses" that would not provide new evidence, but would just keep hammering on the defendant's theme. (JPL, remember, could call in anyone they wanted, give them time off work with pay, and coach them on what to say. We were limited to retirees or former employees.) We wanted to prevent JPL from arguing that they had a "right to interfere" with my "political activities" (such as they were: handing out a few Prop 8 flyers on one day in Nov. 2008).
Both sides had other MILs, but you get the idea: each side doesn't want to prejudice the case, and so it is in their interest to include or exclude certain evidence or lines of argument. For each MIL, we had to present additional facts and evidence to the court arguing our reasons, and additional documents opposing the other party's arguments. All the MILs were presented when we thought we would have a jury trial. Since we later opted for a bench trial, the MILs became largely irrelevant; the judge knew all the motions and could not un-learn them ("You can't un-ring a bell," lawyers say). Judge Hiroshige still ruled on each MIL in chambers (with the lawyers behind closed doors). Based on his decisions, he was not "supposed" to take excluded evidence into consideration for his final decision, but who knows what biases entered in anyway? For instance, he was supposed to watch the DVDs privately, but we never found out if he actually did. It's hard to imagine any fair-minded person thinking the films are "pushing religion". I sure wish I knew if he fulfilled that obligation, and what he thought of the films. I can only speculate that he either did not watch them, or is so prejudiced against ID himself that he did not want me, an ID proponent, to succeed. God only knows.
What Did You Hearsay? Award signed by Greg Chin, Jan. 2001
Another way to bias a trial is with rules about "hearsay" evidence. This can help or hurt a party to a trial. In my case, I think I was hurt. Becker and I could not understand some of the judge's courtroom rules on hearsay. For instance, I had a box full of my personal notebooks from all my time as a JPL employee. We had submitted these to JPL's lawyers to photocopy and examine. They were already in the discovery evidence pool. But during trial, I was hamstrung in using them, on the grounds that they were "hearsay." They were my interpretations of events, the judge said, and therefore were not admissible.
How much can you remember of things you did seven years ago? That's why I took copious notes. My notebooks provided contemporaneous accounts of events, like who was present at a meeting, what was said, and what was decided. In my thinking, it constituted the best evidence of certain events that were discussed at trial—often the only evidence. JPL's witnesses were allowed to speculate out of their own faulty memories about things that had happened up to 9 years earlier, but I had it all written down! For instance, Ms Weld, one of the Cassini managers, got her facts all confused (and wrong) about meetings I had with her about solving problems with one of her employees, Pam W., back in 2004-2006. In my notebooks, I had the exact dates and records of what she said to me at eight separate meetings, when she was cordial and thanked me for bringing the matter to her attention. But on the stand, she only remembered three meetings, and forgot what she herself had said. This was unfair, I thought, but she got away with it because of rules about hearsay. Becker was able to cross examine her, but we could not consult my notebooks as a source of evidence.
There were exceptions. The judge allowed me to consult my notebooks from the stand for the purposes of "refreshing my memory" before testifying. But I could not read aloud what I wrote into the court record; I had to find the right page in the notebook, read it silently, then close it before I could say anything. That's hard to do under pressure when there are multiple facts written down. There were also a few pages in evidence we were allowed to reference. For instance, Pam had just trashed my reputation on the stand when Becker cross-examined her with an excerpt from one of my notebooks that showed I had met with her on Sept. 2, 2004, to build a better working relationship, and that she appreciated it. Only then did she recall that. She testified that my notes were accurate. But for most of the other JPL witnesses, they were allowed to freely speculate about distant memories with no documentation whatsoever. It would have been far better, I think, to allow my notebooks to be offered for witnesses to look at, to confirm or dispute my record, rather than to ignore it completely.
Blind Man's Bluff JPL lead attorney Jim Zapp
The judge's rules allowed JPL's attorneys to use my notebooks against me. For instance, in 2004, Greg got angry with me three times over rumors Pam had spread up the chain. I had dutifully recorded everything he said at those meetings. It looks pretty damaging until you know the context; in March and August of 2004, Pam had badmouthed not just me but all the System Administration (SA) team. Since I was in the "line of fire" as Team Lead, I got the brunt of her complaints. Greg was responding to her gossip that had gone to Pam's boss, her boss's boss, and the Program Manager, and was unloading it on me, the team lead. Within months, as my notebooks from 2005-2007 show, Greg changed his tune, because he started getting in Pam's line of fire himself—so much so that the Program Manager was about to fire him! He wrote in emails to the Program Manager and his sub-managers in that period that he felt the attacks on the SA's were unfair. I gleaned choice quotes from Greg and his deputy Tammy in emails and notebook pages about how they had changed their mind about Pam and about me, were no longer accusing us as being the problem, and were defending us before the top managers.
JPL's lawyers took my earlier notebook pages from 2004 out of this broader context. They harped on them to build their case that I was a troublemaker with a long record of poor interpersonal skills. You can ask any of my team members and others in Greg's office about that period, and they will confirm that I was not the problem. The situation involved strife between Greg's office and Pam's office about how to do things. It was turf war that troubled us all. Some of the heat I took was for defending my team's actions against her gossip with the facts. Context matters! (Note that these conflicts all occurred long before the trouble started over the DVDs, and were resolved when Pam left Cassini in 2007. After that, there was harmony between our offices with her replacement, who was much easier to get along with. Notice too these were work-related conflicts—common in any office—having nothing to do with my case about discrimination and retaliation.) My notebooks recorded all this, but very little of it was heard in court. Instead, Greg, Tammy, Pam, Ms Weld, the Program Manager, my co-workers and others who testified against me at trial were permitted to speak off the tops of their heads with no written record whatsoever!
Surprising as it seems, hearsay rules also disallow a witness from attesting his own emails. I possessed several time-relevant emails I wrote to myself in 2009 after key events occurred, but these were not considered admissible evidence. Only when a recipient could attest to receiving an email was it admissible. Because of this rule, there were some "hot doc" emails by others that didn't make it into evidence because a key person could not recall receiving it, or was mentioned in the email but was not on the recipient list.
Even if a witness does attest a document, and it makes it into evidence, it may not get the notice it deserves (see "Crystal Clear: What This Trial Was All About.
The Attorney-Client Huddle Moses with Decalogue at L.A. Superior Court
The ability of an attorney and client to keep their discussions confidential is an important safeguard in our justice system. Attorney-client privilege was won through a series of historic precedents. Abuses are certainly possible when an attorney or client are forced to reveal what they said in confidence. It can also mean, however, that incriminating evidence will never see the light of day in the courtroom. That happened in my case.
During 2010, after my lawsuit had been filed and before I was laid off, JPL's lawyers met with key decision makers specifically about my case six to eight times. We wouldn't have known about these meetings except that a witness disclosed the fact at deposition, leading to follow-up questions and more revelations about them by that witness and others. In deposition and at trial, we were allowed to inquire about the dates of these meetings and who was present, but we could not ask about what was said, on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. Not even the judge could know.
It's not hard to imagine what was going on. Jim Zapp and the defense team were most likely scheming with Cassini management, HR and my line management about how to get me out of JPL without making it look like retaliation. This would explain a lot of subsequent events: the low ranking, the terrible annual review, the addition of two additional SA's a few months before my firing, the delay of the layoff to appear to coincide with "reduction in funding" for 2011, and the firing of another SA on the same day. It looked very suspicious, but we didn't have a fly on the wall at those meetings, and nobody present was allowed to discuss what was said. This made it difficult for us to prove our retaliation case except by circumstantial evidence. We knew, however, that all those meetings were specifically about my lawsuit, and the key decision makers were present with JPL counsel.
Becker told me that after a trial is adjudicated, the rules of attorney-client privilege are no longer in force. Any participant at those meetings is free to tell me what was said. I doubt that any will, and it wouldn't make any difference in the outcome, but it would be interesting to know. It's another example of not having access to "the whole truth" that bears on a case.
The Winnowing Game Judge Ernest Hiroshige
The photo shows Moses with the Ten Commandments outside the L.A. Superior Court building where my trial was held. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is the standard. Witnesses swear to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." The whole truth, however, is often unbearably voluminous for mortals who are not omniscient. There's a winnowing process to reduce the whole truth to the relevant truth. This is the last game I'll mention that courts play with evidence: the winnowing game. Who decides what is wheat and what is chaff?
As discussed earlier, discovery is often unwieldy. Both sides give their discovery documents numbers that are Bates-stamped onto the pages. When referred to in depositions, they are given exhibit numbers. As trial approaches, a subset of the Discovery Docs is agreed on by both sides to become the Trial Exhibits. These are given new Bates numbers, requiring tedious cross-correlation of three sets of numbers. All of the Trial Docs had to be printed out in quadruplicate, one set for the court, one set for the plaintiff, one set for the defendant, and one set for the witness. In my case, we had to print 4 copies of five 4-inch binders full of paper. That recalls a long night at the copy center! But we're not done winnowing yet.
During trial, no document can be considered relevant to the case until it is formally "admitted into evidence." During examination and cross, each side's counsel asks the court to admit Exhibit nnn into evidence. If the opposing side agrees, it becomes part of the official case evidential record. There's not time to admit all of them, certainly not the 380 Trial Exhibits in my case. So unless an attorney succeeds in getting all of his "hot docs" submitted while court is in session, essential evidence can be excluded from consideration for the decision. Moreover, the attorney can only ask for admission while examining a witness capable of attesting to the exhibit's veracity (e.g., "Is this your email, Mr. Burgess?"). It means that only a small subset of initial evidence can be considered by a jury (or the judge, in my case) when contemplating the verdict.
The Gutter Ball
Even then, the winnowing game is not over. Attorneys know that jurors often develop a "gut feeling" about the case based on what they hear and see in the courtroom. That was one worry we had when considering a bench trial vs. a jury trial. Would a typical panel of inner-city jurors—probably many of them government workers (or out of work)—be able to process the intricacies of law that pertain to a case like mine? Or would it turn into a popularity contest, ending up with a decision based on whether they liked me or my lawyer better than JPL's lawyers? Would the prestige of JPL and NASA bias them against a lone plaintiff?
When we decided on a bench trial, the "gut feel" issue became refocused sharply from worries about the biases of 12 people to concerns about one man's integrity. Judge Hiroshige was an experienced employment-law judge with many years' experience. But he was a Jerry Brown appointee, and registered Democrat. We don't know his feelings about ID, but we do know that most Democrats lean left, and leftists are usually the most stridently opposed to intelligent design. How well was he able to lay aside his own biases (if any) and focus completely on the winnowed-down evidence? It's impossible to know. All we know is that despite mounds of evidence, and a painstaking, four-year effort on Becker's part, it came down to one fallible man's judgment. And he wasn't telling what evidence, or lack thereof, influenced him to rule the way he did.
The weight of the evidence depends what evidence makes it to the scales. Then it depends on how much weight is ascribed to each piece on the stack. As I look at piles of boxes of paper in my garage from this trial, most of it concerning "evidence" that got subjected to all these tricks of the courtroom, I think sometimes we could have saved a lot of trees by tossing a coin. I'll let the reader decide whether justice was served.
Awaiting the first images from Titan's surface, 1/14/05
We're coming up on the 2-year anniversary of a bad day, when Judge Ernest Hiroshige gave his final ruling against my case against JPL. But lest anyone think my time at JPL was primarily negative, I thought I would share some of the overwhelmingly good days of my career with the Cassini mission: especially the day the Huygens Probe landed on Titan, Saturn's large moon. It was 10 years ago today, January 14, 2005. I remember it well. Everyone was excited. We were all happy. I was a welcome member of the team back then, four years before the trouble started. I had been working for Cassini 8 years by that time. I loved the discoveries we were making, often attending the Project Science Group (PSG) meetings, when the instrument scientists from across America and Europe—a Who's Who of planetary scientists—would gather to share their discoveries. One of the biggest nail-biters of the whole mission was the Huygens Probe landing, With Claudio Sollazzo, his son and the Conners at Vasquez Rocks, Oct. 2000.
The probe was built by the European Space Agency (ESA) but management was shared between ESA and JPL, because the probe, riding piggy-back on the Cassini orbiter, relied on its communication links. Several Huygens scientists and engineers from Europe spent a few years at JPL preparing for the big day. Among them was Claudio Sollazzo, Chief Operations Officer for the Huygens mission. With flight engineer Ray Weaver at Probe Separation, 12/24/04.
One day in Oct. 2000, Claudio's son Robert was out for a visit, and told his dad he wanted to see a California desert. So I took them and Diane Conner and her husband out to Vasquez Rocks (you might recognize the landscape from Star Trek). We hiked around and had a good time. Diane Conner and her husband joined in. She and I were on friendly terms back then, even though she later testified against me at trial.
It was on that day after the hike that Claudio shared with me a troubling fact: a glitch had been discovered during a periodic probe checkout that would spell doom for the Huygens mission! The probe's transmitter was not built to adjust for Doppler shifts, and its hardwired frequency setting could not be changed via a software upgrade. The probe would surely lose its link with the mother ship, and would sink out of sight below Titan's smog. This would be a disaster, not only for the ESA engineers and scientists who had spent two decades preparing for the mission, but for the world, which would miss out on a historic space first.
This was an occasion when JPL's reputation for remote problem solving really shined. Over the next few years, flight engineers figured out a solution. They would delay the probe separation till Christmas Eve, take an extra orbit around Titan, and release it so that the orbiter and probe would be traveling at the same speed, perpendicular to Titan. Jean-Pierre Lebreton at pre-descent briefing, 12/28/04
This effectively removed the Doppler shift and allowed the transmitter and receiver to communicate as planned. Mission saved! We deployed the probe on December 24. Three weeks later, Mission accomplished! On January 14, the heat shield worked, the parachutes worked, and the landing went flawlessly. Most of the instruments, launched seven years earlier, switched on as planned and gathered data all the way down to Titan's frozen surface.
Claudio Sollazzo at Probe Separation party, 12/24/04
One very relieved and happy man was Chief Scientist Jean-Pierre Lebreton, who had spent a good 23 years of his life preparing for the 3-hour mission. Can you imagine all that work going down the drain because of an engineering oversight? Fortunately, it all worked... almost all. The Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE) failed, but data was rescued by earth-based radio telescopes that were able to follow the probe's descent. One of the imager channels failed, but the majority of the images were captured on the good channel, such that a dramatic recreation of the descent could be made based on real photos (you can watch the Beethoven version
or the geek version with all the bells and whistles
). It's like riding a flying saucer to the surface of an alien world!
The photo here I took in a briefing 4 days after the probe separation, when Jean-Pierre gave Cassini staff members a preview of the landing and what to expect. I remember thinking at earlier briefings in prior years how risky a mission this was. It seemed very unlikely to succeed, given how many things could go wrong. I was as relieved as anyone to see it work. I was also excited about the discoveries made, which I promptly reported on Creation-Evolution Headlines
on my own time. For years later, I loved to tell the Huygens story at astronomy clubs and other meetings, showing the pictures and videos and telling about the dramatic, historic landing.
At the briefing shown here, and at many others, I was the only one taking pictures. In fact, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm by some Cassini staff, including members of my System Administration team, who somehow failed to see the historic importance of what we were accomplishing. To some of them, it was just a job. For me, it was making history. I soaked up all this precious science and space history like a sponge, taking notes, taking photos, talking to scientists, and learning all I could. Many of my notebooks contain detailed notes from science briefings. I wasn't just there for the pay, you see; I loved being a part of space history in the making. I loved JPL.
And as I reported often afterwards, the things we discovered did not fit the millions-of-years evolutionary scenario. For instance, scientists had predicted the probe would land on a global ocean (and they hoped it would), so they built it to float. Instead, it landed on moist sand on a world covered in sand dunes. Only a few lakes and river channels were found. For another case, I remember chatting over lunch in 2005 with Dr. Sushil Atreya
, atmospheric scientist and chief investigator of the 1995 Galileo Probe. He told me the atmosphere of Titan had a maximum lifetime of 100 million years, just 1/45th the accepted age (4.5 billion years). He had no explanation for why the atmosphere was still there. I have a long list of other anomalies in the solar system, particularly ones we discovered at Saturn, that are problematic for belief in billions of years.
In those happy days 10 years ago, I developed good relationships with Cassini and Huygens people—with one glaring exception. There was a system engineer named Pam who rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. One of my team members, who generally got along well with everyone, told me on 3 occasions that Pam was the most difficult person he had ever worked with—and he had supported hundreds of customers in prior jobs. She was "way off the radar" he said. Pam had a reputation as a type-A "alpha female." Even Program Manager Bob Mitchell had heard that. Pam had a "my way or the highway" attitude, sometimes asking my team to do things that violated JPL security policies. When I, as team lead, objected, she took a strong dislike of me. Another thing: she had the gift of gossip. She spread bad stories about me to her boss Sue and her boss's boss Kathryn. Shaun Standley with Todd Barber, flight engineer
Years later at my trial, JPL's lawyers dug for dirt in this period of 2004 to 2007. In their attempt to portray me as a stubborn person always saying "no" to everything, they let those three women testify against me in court. Pam seemed to thoroughly enjoy this opportunity to stick in the knife and twist it, even though she knew. and her boss knew, and her boss's boss knew, that I bent over backwards to build a harmonious relationship with them personally and between their offices and our office. I have emails from my office manager Greg Chin (you remember, the one who yelled "Intelligent design is religion!") and Tammy, his deputy, from that period, proving that Pam was causing serious conflicts between her office and our office. It hit me particularly hard because I was in her line of fire, trying to protect my team from her outrageous demands. If I had been the problem, I could have been fired or demoted from team lead, but I remained on as lead even after Pam left. I was only demoted and fired after Margaret's complaint about the intelligent design DVDs (March, 2009).
I only bring this up in this post because it touches on my reputation with Claudio Sollazzo and his deputy, Shaun Standley of England. I provided support for their JPL computers and for their remote support computers in Europe. Claudio was known to be outspoken when unhappy with anything, but we had a great relationship. Because of my lead role in computer support for the JPL-ESA computer links, I was often in attendance with him and Shaun at planning meetings, and would help them in their offices or by phone, so they got to know me pretty well. At the Huygens celebration party, 3/25/05
One day I told them in their office that I was having trouble with Pam and her boss, and that bad things were being said about me around the office. Both Claudio and Shaun were shocked and dismayed. Claudio said, "You're one of the nicest people I've ever had to deal with." I know this because I recorded it in my notebook on the day he said it: 8/19/04. He said I was responsive and communicates well. Shaun Standley concurred. We remained on good terms till the day they left JPL. I was also on good terms with Jean-Pierre Lebreton, though I saw him less often; these were the two head honchos of the Huygens Mission. I could name many other important scientists and engineers that interacted with me often with mutual respect and friendship. In fact, I was the liaison for the instrument team leads across the US and Europe when they needed help with their Science and Operations Computers. One was very sorry when I called him after I was fired; he said I was his "go-to guy." Dr. Candace Hansen, a famous Voyager scientist I assisted with computer support for years, used the same term. (Incidentally, she appears in the last interview in The Privileged Planet DVD's bonus features.)
Two months after the Huygens landing, all the staff enjoyed a big party in the Von Karman auditorium. Claudio spoke and shared a few of the historic descent images that revealed, for the first time, systems of river channels that looked remarkably like earth landforms. With scale models of Cassini and Huygens inside the room, it was a wonderful time to take pride in what we had accomplished. I had also been at "Christmas Party" (not Holiday Party) events in this room, and at many Project Science meetings.
In the photos I took of this party, it's bittersweet to see the smiling faces of individuals who years later would testify against me: Margaret and Julie. But they are in the minority. Most of the scientists and engineers and co-workers are people I remember fondly, and I hope the feeling is mutual, even today.
Huygens Party, with models at right and Titan images on screen.
Farewell for Claudio Sollazzo, 5/11/05
Claudio and Shaun at the Huygens Party, 3/25/05
His mission complete, Claudio returned home to Italy that May. At a going-away celebration, Project Manager Bob Mitchell presented him with a plaque as we all applauded a job well done. He seemed humbled as well as gratified.
Before Claudio left I gave him a copy The Privileged Planet, which he accepted graciously and cheerfully. I also gave one to Shaun Standley, who remained on at JPL for some years. He liked it so much he bought a copy 10 days later.
These are glimpses into the many good years I had a JPL. They are still fond memories. My main regret is having to leave under a cloud. It only takes one person to start something that can destroy a reputation.
A year ago, on January 16, 2013, my lawyers and I got word that Judge Ernest Hiroshige had issued his final ruling against us. My picture had been plastered on newspapers around the world on October 31, 2012, when his tentative ruling suggested he was intending to favor JPL on all counts. He gave JPL's lawyers the task of writing the proposed opinion. Once we received a copy in November, lead attorney Bill Becker and I had one more chance to fight it, and we fought hard. Working 60-hour weeks nonstop till almost Christmas, we submitted a 230-page rebuttal to all of JPL's "findings of fact" and "conclusions of law" that had tried to portray the case as a trivial complaint by a poor worker with no legal basis. JPL's version had become the official press release when an AP reporter wrote a story about the tentative ruling. It caught fire and was multiplied thousands of times around the world. Outside of the Discovery Institute, not a single reporter contacted me or Bill to get our side of the story. We couldn't rely on the press to get it right or understand what intelligent design is, but we had one last chance to convince the judge our case had merit, or to win on at least one of the ten counts.
Despite our slim hopes, the judge did not change his mind. With no explanation at all, he simply said, "Plaintiff's objections to the Proposed Statement of Decision and the Proposed Judgment are overruled. The Court signs and adopts the Proposed Statement of Decision and the Proposed Judgment as the Statement of Decision and Judgment of this Court as of January'
15, 2013." Thus ended our 3-and-a-half year effort to get justice for the clear discrimination I faced when debased, disciplined, demoted and eventually discharged for having shared DVDs on intelligent design. Despite our heroic effort, with support from ADF and Discovery Institute, and about $70,000 out of my own pocket for court costs, it seemed all for naught. And six days earlier, I had just learned I had cancer.
Shirt says "Liberty"
Life Goes On
To say "Life goes on" is trite, but for me, to sit here at the computer tonight in good health, with many blessings over the past year, is proof that God stands with us in our trials. Yes, it hurt a lot to lose, and I was scared of surgery, but I was enormously blessed by countless people who prayed for me and expressed support. I received numerous cards, emails and letters. My sister and her family have helped me so much. My church paid the $8500 deductible for my health insurance. Other friends contributed, and members of my church brought meals after my surgery, offering encouragement in many ways. And best of all, God heard and answered.
The picture shows me on one of my daily walks in late summer. After the successful surgery in late February, God has let me bounce back rapidly, much better than I thought possible. I thought I might have just 2-5 years left. Though I face ongoing treatments the rest of my life, my oncologist says chances are good I can enjoy many more years of good health. I have no symptoms from the remaining tumors; they are being treated with medicine covered by my insurance. In addition, I have come under the care of one of the top experts for my kind of cancer, and just this week I obtained a health insurance policy that, despite Obamacare, looks like it will be manageable, and will cover all my treatments and doctors. I'm also encouraged by promising new treatments for cancer working their way through clinical trials; some of them are really amazing. Immunotherapy, for instance, made Science Magazine's Breakthrough of the Year
. I can hope and pray the new targeted therapies will be available when I need them. In the meantime, there is an arsenal of treatments already available for carcinoid patients.
Taking advantage of the good recovery, I resolved to do my part to stay healthy as long as possible. I eat right (see my Cancer Blog
) and I walk 2 to 4 miles every day. Since surgery, I calculate I have walked 800 miles on deliberate walks and hikes, enough to walk from Los Angeles to Denver. I actually feel healthier than I did in 2012.
The Lord has also kept me happy with gainful employment – self-employment, that is. I don't make near what I did at JPL, but I am able to earn enough from home to keep food on the table and the bills paid. I make money writing, speaking, and selling books and DVDs, including the ones that cost me my job. I've had the joy of helping Illustra Media on their latest nature documentary, Flight: The Genius of Birds,
including participating in a photo shoot, assisting with interviews, and researching some of the amazing facts discussed in the film. The staff, some of my best friends, have been wonderful, supporting me and giving me work; now we are busy with the next project. Some of my writing has made it into magazines and radio, and some gets translated into three other languages. I've never been bored, but now, even without a full-time job and commute, my days are filled with activity! I wake up raring to go.
Diving into a Grand Canyon waterfall
His Mercies Are Everlasting
Within 3 months of surgery, I was carrying a pack and diving into waterfalls. As you can see, I'm doing OK even with a foot-long abdominal scar, 21" less of small bowel, no gall bladder and a lot of tumors in my liver. Who would have thought? I am SO thankful to the Lord and to all who prayed for me!
In 2013 I was able to travel, too. I led 10 Creation Safaris, including 2 backpacking trips where I carried a full load and did the distance with young people half my age. I got to photograph some amazing things that I've been posting on my Flickr page
God is so good. Whether I truly suffered for righteousness' sake (instead of my own sake) is for God to judge, but I can vouch for His mercy, grace and answers to prayer. So no need to pity me. Like Paul, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am, and right now, my circumstances are not too bad.
The Power of Prayer
One lesson the Lord has been teaching me is the importance of prayer for others. Having been its beneficiary, I am learning to devote more time and energy to it. In the cancer support group I attend, I have seen carcinoid patients much worse off than me. There are also members of my Sunday School class who have been diagnosed with cancer and other serious conditions It's been my joy to take their trials to the Lord and to encourage them as I have been encouraged.
One special joy is to pray regularly with some JPL Christian friends who were very supportive throughout my troubles. We swap prayer requests by phone as they meet to pray on lab. We've already seen God work in answer to specific needs. It's been great to keep that relationship going.
Losses and Gains
In summary, I am moving forward, rejoicing. It looks like we will never know Judge Hiroshige's reasons for ruling against me, and frankly, I still don't understand fully why God put me through this experience (or allowed it). One thing I do know is that several individuals told me they were encouraged by my taking a stand. But I had wanted to ring the liberty bell for freedom; I had wanted the world to hear the truth about intelligent design. Instead, from a human vantage point, the opposite happened.
I told Bill Becker the other day that the story appears to be one of justice denied: a trial lost because the defendants had more money, more staff, and more experience with the tricks of the trade. That was also the Discovery Institute
's opinion. Through distraction, distortion and dissembling, JPL's legal team took a clear case of religious discrimination and twisted it into a tale of employee incompetence. We were outmanned and outmaneuvered. For all we know, the judge may have had social reasons for his decision: fear of his peer group if he supported ID? not wanting to hurt JPL's good reputation? personal dislike for Christians or conservatives? We don't know, because he gave no reason. We're not even sure he watched the DVDs like he said he would. (I don't know how anyone could watch The Privileged Planet
and Unlocking the Mystery of Life
and think for a minute they were "pushing religion".)
But that's looking at it all from a mere human viewpoint. We can be confident God is in control. He answers prayer in His way. He is full of mercy and compassion. Losses in one area He compensates for with blessings in others. The main thing is to remain faithful, rejoicing in each day's blessings and opportunities. The next chapters remain to be written, but we know the story of the adventure of faith has a great ending.
Front of WTC six months before the attack
I remember well how JPL responded the day twelve years ago when terrorists struck America. It was a work day, and despite the shock of the images on the TV news, most of us out here in California felt we needed to get to our jobs. Every JPL employee, though, was turned away at the gate and told to return home. No one knew the extent of the threats, and NASA facilities were considered potential targets. It wasn't till the 13th that JPL gave the all clear to return to work. It turned into an uncharacteristically patriotic day.
As could be expected, what became known simply as "9/11" was the talk of the lab. Everyone was concerned and worried. We probably all remember all the members of Congress--liberal and conservative alike--joining in an unprecedented show of patriotism, singing "God bless America" on the capitol steps. A similar upwelling of patriotism swept across JPL, usually a bastion of godless evolutionism and political correctness. The lab opened the prestigious Van Karman Auditorium for "meditation" all day, projecting the names of the victims on the screen to the music of Barber's Adagio for Strings. Within a few days, the JPL choir put on an outdoor program of patriotic songs, including God Bless America and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, attended by many on lab.
Recently a came across a memo to all employees shortly after 9/11. Signed by all 18 members of the Executive Committee, the memo from JPL Director Charles Elachi called on all employees to "re-dedicate ourselves to the principles and values that make us proud to be Americans". With the memo came an American flag lapel pin. The pins became a common sight on employees for the next few days.
This memo had a particularly poignancy for me. During my trial in 2012, JPL's lawyers, and Cassini Manager Bob Mitchell, emphasized that JPL was a "league of nations." For political correctness, it was inappropriate, therefore, to expect employees to celebrate Christmas. That's why my question to Carmen in 2003, asking why she was changing "Christmas Party" to "Holiday Party,"
was so "harassing" to her. Mitchell himself ordered her not to change the name back, even though Christmas is a federal holiday in America. How soon liberals forget the principles that make them proud to be Americans.
All the while, to this day, the only flag flying high over the JPL Administration Building is a huge American flag.
I've owed my readers some news for over two months now. SInce I have been silent on this blog, some have worried if everything is OK. The short answer is, yes! I am recovering well. The picture above was taken June 19 of me jumping off a 60' cliff called "Skydiver Leap" into a deep pool in Havasupai Canyon (a tributary of the Grand Canyon). It was my ninth time there (first time in 1988). On this expedition I carried a pack 20 miles and hiked an additional 15 miles on a great trip with over a dozen young adults, one of whom I was able to lead to Christ one night at Havasu Falls.
Just prior to that trip I had a good 3-day camping jaunt up the California coast with a friend from Australia, another hiking buddy and two nephews. These were my first chances to get away since surgery. I'm posting photos from these trips on my Flickr page over time: see them here-- http://www.flickr.com/photos/psa104/
. One coastal photo caught the eyes of over 3,000 viewers.
Mooney Falls is a 200-footer.
I'm feeling strong, walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food. Though I'm not out of the woods, I've recovered remarkably well so far, thanks to the prayers of many people and the grace of God. Just 3.5 months ago I was helpless in a hospital bed, and now look! When my oncologist saw these pictures of me hiking, doing handstands and cliff diving, she said it made her day! I'm on long-term treatment with octreotide, a chemical that mimics a natural enzyme with receptors for the tumor cells in my liver.
It's supposed to shrink the tumors, or at least inhibit them from growing. In late May, I had to inject myself three times a day for two weeks. Now, every 4 weeks I get a shot in the gluteal muscles that makes me sore for about a day, but then I feel fine.
Neuroendocrine tumors, like those embedded in my liver, are usually slow-growing. The octreotide is probably just buying time until more targeted therapies become FDA approved. Some of them look very promising. One available already follows the octreotide to the tumors with a radioactive isotope payload that can kill the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. A better isotope is now undergoing a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The most interesting targeted therapies are the T-cell immunotherapies and oncolytic viruses. The T-cell therapy trains your own immune system to fight the tumors. The oncolythic virus therapy uses a custom virus that finds the tumor cell and kills it, releasing copies that attack nearby tumor cells. A test of this virus at the University of Uppsala in Sweden has proven effective in mice. Researchers are seeking funds to begin Phase I trials in humans
. Unfortunately, these "miracle cures" are years away. We should pray that they become available soon, not just for me, but for many others suffering from cancer.
In mid-July I will be meeting with my surgeons at City of Hope to learn about treatment options. Most likely they will recommend staying the course with octreotide for now. You can continue to pray that it will be effective, and buy me as much time as God's perfect will requires for me to work, and that I will use my time wisely.
Some reasons for my silence have been (1) busy with other writing, (2) the blog software for this site is lousy, buggy, and lacking in features, (3) uncertainties about how many are reading it. I've been questioning whether a blog is the best way to tell the story of my trial. It's time consuming, for one thing, and I'm not sure readers are getting the whole story with occasional bits and pieces in reverse chronological order. The blog software is rigid and inflexible, making it hard to write and hard for readers to find the whole story. I know I spoke of another episode coming up, so I apologize for keeping you in suspense if you were following it. I do intend to write more.
I do have some news to share. Another system administrator I knew at JPL emailed me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago. He had read the trial decision and parts of this blog, and was quite upset by the negative reports about me JPL's lawyers told. He said he had the utmost respect for me and never considered me overbearing or demeaning. "This character assassination of you is completely bogus," he said.
I was glad to hear from this co-worker, Paul, who had been laid off in 2008, not long before my troubles began. We got together for lunch last week in Glendale. He repeated his opinion that he looked up to me as a senior system administrator who was highly regarded by others in the Network and Security Group. Turns out he is also a Christian, and a talented jazz trumpeter with two excellent albums. He gave me one, and I gave him my album Classic Adventures
Paul said he remembered me as a calm person, never angry, never talking down to others. I appreciated his input, telling him that are only a limited number of people who were there and know the facts and characters in the Cassini environment. Because of the costs of deposition, we couldn't afford many character witnesses at trial (just Bruce, Jennifer and Ron). We couldn't call on my Cassini friends to testify without deposing them first. It would have been an imposition on their time and a possible threat to their own jobs to have them testify against their employer. JPL, by contrast, could call on anyone they wanted without deposing them first, and offer them a free day with pay to testify against me. Because of this imbalance, I have been collecting unsolicited positive comments about my work from several JPL co-workers. I would like to share them with you in a future post, just for the record.
Paul corroborated other things from our side of the story, such as the fact that Cassini's Holiday Party had been called "Christmas Party" before 2003 but was changed due to political correctness. He also gave his opinion of the team lead who was selected after I was demoted, saying he was not as qualified as JPL's lawyers made him out to be. He also agreed with my impression that this person was an opportunist. Paul was not surprised that he had testified against me in court. Additionally, Paul corroborated that JPL lied about the importance of Linux being a skill necessary for the future of the Cassini mission. JPL claimed that Linux was essential, and because I was not as knowledgeable about it as another SA, that's why I was ranked low and laid off. Paul and I knew that was false; Cassini had determined to stay on Solaris 10 (a subject I was highly qualified on) till the end of mission. Out of the nearly 200 computers in Cassini, only a couple in one office used Linux, and those two were administered by a part-timer.
Flight: The Genius of Birds
Other Good News
Another good thing that has occupied my time over the last 3 months has been assisting Illustra Media with their latest intelligent design documentary, Flight: The Genius of Birds
(see trailer and ordering information on illustramedia.com
). This latest addition to their growing ID arsenal is really exceptional: cutting-edge science, stunning photography, and a powerful ID message all wrapped in a compelling narration with beautiful music. Illustra's producer, editor and production team have outdone themselves again! This is a film that informs and inspires, like its predecessor Metamorphosis
The Blu-ray edition of Flight
just came out. What a treat of sight and 5.1 surround sound!
My role was science consultant and fact-checker. I discovered some of the amazing facts about hummingbirds, starlings and arctic terns featured in the film, and about bird anatomy. In addition, I spell-checked the script and subtitles, assisted with a photo shoot and some of the interviews, and quality-checked the test disks before publication. Lad Allen wanted to list me as "Associate Producer" in the credits but I talked him out of it, thinking two other mentions (science consultant and board member) was plenty. The credit really goes to Lad Allen and Jerry Harned, two of the finest Christian film producers in the country today.
And thus my story circles round; it was the Illustra films Unlocking the Mystery of Life
and The Privileged Planet
that cost me my job at JPL. Well, if they think these wonderful films are harassing, then chocolate is nauseous and a rose smells putrid. The rest of us know a good thing when we see it. I hope you will support Illustra's great ministry by buying their products and sharing them with the widest audiences you can. Become a fan on their Facebook page
, and order a pile of their films today!
I hope you will be a daily reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines
where I report on news from the science journals each day, adding "color commentary" to liven things up a bit. It has RSS and a Twitter feed @crevinfo. My personal Twitter is @psa104.
Tell next time, thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you!
"Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1