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Judge: District won't pay damages in 'Bong Hits' case

By The Associated Press
10.15.07

JUNEAU, Alaska — The Juneau School District has declared its "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case over with the latest federal court ruling, but the attorney for the student in the case says that's not so.

The district announced Oct. 12 that U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick had ruled in favor of former Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Deborah Morse and the district over a request for damages.

District spokeswoman Susan Christianson said the ruling ended an attempt by former student Joseph Frederick to continue his case after the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of his First Amendment claims.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said Juneau was tired of the Frederick lawsuit and the community wanted to move on.

"Judge Sedwick's decision should allow us to do that," she said.

However, Frederick's attorney, Doug Mertz, called the ruling a "non-issue," predictable and expected.

"We now have the opportunity to return to the Court of Appeals on the state issues," he said.

Frederick, who lives in Idaho and teaches English in China, could not be reached for comment. He graduated in 2002.

Frederick filed a civil rights lawsuit against Morse and the district after Morse suspended him for displaying a banner with "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a public event.

After a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in Morse v. Frederick favoring Morse last session, the case was returned to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court returned the case to Sedwick, who had previously ruled against Frederick.

Christianson said Sedwick dismissed Frederick's remaining claim seeking damages because students no longer subject to school authorities no longer have claim to "declaratory or injunctive relief." She said the judge noted that Frederick failed to appeal the court's prior ruling that state law immunized Morse and the school board from claims for damages.

That left only Frederick's demand that the school district remove any references to discipline associated with his display of the banner, Christianson said. Because the school district had already expunged the records, the judge dismissed Frederick's claims as moot, she said.

Sedwick wrote in his ruling Oct. 10 that Frederick's remaining claims for relief under Alaska law were moot.


Related

High court limits student speech in 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case

Schools may prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use, Chief Justice John Roberts writes. 06.25.07

For high school students, free speech is no joke
By Charles C. Haynes Narrowly drawn as Supreme Court justices tried to make 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' ruling, don’t be surprised when many school officials and judges use it to find new grounds for censoring students. 07.08.07

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