School Board mulls offer for settlement in Bong Hits case

Attorney Mertz says he expects to file appeal to Ninth Circuit Court

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Juneau School Board held a closed-door executive session Tuesday to discuss a recent settlement offer in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

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The offer came from Juneau attorney Doug Mertz, who served as lead counsel in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case for nearly six years. The proposed settlement amount was not disclosed.

If the Juneau School District passes on the settlement offer, Mertz said the free speech case would return to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on state, rather than federal, constitutional issues.

"It's time to decide if the board is ready to put this behind them," Mertz said.

Thursday is the deadline for Mertz to file an appeal in the 9th Circuit Court to overturn the recent decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick, who ruled the case "moot."

Mertz said he expected to file an appeal before the deadline.

David Crosby, Juneau School District attorney, did not comment on the settlement offer as he left the executive session on Tuesday.

"It would be inappropriate to reply before talking to opposing counsel," he said.

The case stemmed from a banner saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," which student Joseph Frederick and his friends hoisted across from Juneau-Douglas High School as the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay passed. Deborah Morse, high school principal at the time, suspended Frederick for refusing to take the banner down. Frederick sued, claiming his first amendment rights were violated by Morse's actions.

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