School district seeking to recover some costs from 'Bong Hits' plaintiff

ALASKA — The former Juneau-Douglas High School student whofought his suspension for holding up a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” bannerduring an off-campus event is being asked to reimburse the school district forabout $5,000 in court fees.

Joseph Frederick filed a federal lawsuitagainst his school district in 2002, alleging the school violated his FirstAmendment right to free speech. The district court ruled his rights were notviolated because the event, although across the street from the school, wasschool-sanctioned, and the school had the authority to punish him based on itsanti-drug policy.

Frederick appealed to the9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and won. But the Supreme Court inJune ruled for the school district, saying schools may punish student speechthat advocates the use of illegal drugs.

Frederick re-filed the case instate court, claiming the school violated his rights under Alaska law, but thestate district court dismissed the case. Frederick’s attorney, Doug Mertzof the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, now is appealing the dismissal.

In themeantime, Mertz is trying to defer a Feb. 1 deposition date to discussFrederick’s assets because Frederick is in China teaching English andcannot afford to come home. Mertz said he suspects the district has an ulteriormotive in moving to collect court fees while the case is still inprogress.

“Since they know that Joe is broke, they know they probablywill never collect anything. So the motive is almost certainly something else,likely retaliation, harassment, or perhaps to let them get a hold of thecontract Joe has with a Hollywood studio for an option on his story — something that really galls them — so they can try to stop thefilm,” Mertz said. He added that Frederick would be forced to borrow moneyand quit his job to return home for the deposition.

The schooldistrict’s attorney, David Crosby, said he sent Frederick a number ofquestions regarding his assets, which would help him determine if a depositionis even necessary.

“We will defer the decision to take a depositionand how that deposition is taken,” he said, but he wants answers to thequestions first. Frederick has had the questions for six weeks and has notresponded, he said.

“If a deposition is necessary, I am willing to doit by telephone and video camera if the plaintiff bears the additional cost ofdoing that,” Crosby said.

Once a court decision is made, the winningside has the right to collect court fees, he said.

“A judgment, whenentered by a court, is final … this applies to everyone. The plaintiff is notbeing treated any differently,” Crosby said. “I can’t see whythe court would deny us this information.”

Crosby said he hopes thelong-running case will soon come to an end.

“When will [this case] goaway? We’re now at the stage where they’ve lost to the Supreme Courtand the district court said the case is ‘moot.’ “