Pubdate: Thu, 04 May 2006
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Copyright: 2006 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
Author: Eric Morrison, Juneau Empire
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


School Board Secures Former Clinton Investigator Kenneth Starr As Pro 
Bono Attorney in Attempt to Reverse Ruling in First Amendment Banner Case

The Juneau School Board is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn 
a court ruling that supported a former student's right to display a 
banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

The Juneau School District has enlisted some big-name help in hopes 
of overturning the ruling that could potentially cost it money. Los 
Angeles attorney Kenneth Starr, who served as the independent counsel 
investigating former president Bill Clinton, has agreed to represent 
the School Board and former Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Deb 
Morse on a pro bono basis to appeal an April decision by the 9th U.S. 
Circuit Court of Appeals. The San Francisco-based court reversed a 
lower federal court decision when it ruled Morse and the School Board 
violated JDHS student Joseph Frederick's First Amendment rights in 
January 2002.

"The 9th Circuit's decision has left the Board and school 
administrators with no guidance as to where and when we can enforce 
our policy against messages promoting illegal drug use," said Phyllis 
Carlson, president of the School Board. "Federal law requires us to 
maintain a consistent message that use of drugs like marijuana is 
harmful and illegal. Yet, when we try to enforce our policies, our 
administrators are sued and exposed to damage awards."

Frederick was suspended after he was observed with a sign that read 
"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during the visit of the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch 
to Juneau. Frederick was off school grounds but it was during school hours.

"How foolish," said Juneau-based lawyer Douglas Mertz, who has been 
representing Frederick. "How much money are they going to waste 
trying to deprive someone of their Constitutional rights?"

Mertz, who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court before, said it 
is very unlikely the nation's highest court will hear the case.

"Number one, they take very few cases anyway," he said. "And the 
cases they usually take are issues where there is some issue of 
national importance and significant disagreement between lower 
courts, and this case fits neither category."

Carlson said Starr, whose investigation led to the impeachment of 
President Clinton by the U.S. House of Representatives, has the 
reputation and qualifications to take the case.

"He is absolutely the best attorney we could have for this case," she 
said. "The fact that he is willing to waive his fee confirms our 
belief in the importance of this case to school districts throughout 
the country."

Mertz said he is not intimidated by Starr's star-power.

"In the Supreme Court, it's the merit of the cases that count," he said. 
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