Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jan 2008
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Copyright: 2008 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
Author: Alan Suderman, Juneau Empire


A lawyer representing the former local high school student whose 
"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner unfurled a lengthy free speech debate is 
accusing the attorney for the Juneau School Board of harassing his 
client over a $5,000 legal bill.

Douglas Mertz said the board's lawyer is trying to force his client, 
Joseph Frederick, to leave his job in China to face a February 
deposition in Juneau regarding his personal finances.

"The only motive here is revenge, retaliation and harassment," said 
Mertz, who filed a motion Tuesday with the U.S. District Court to 
prevent Frederick from being forced to appear in court in person.

Frederick was ordered to pay court fees of about $2,000 each for a 
U.S. Supreme Court case and the most recent District Court case he 
lost. With added interest, his fees total roughly $5,000, Mertz said.

The board's lawyer, David Crosby, said he was not harassing Frederick 
but simply trying to get the money owed to his client. Until that 
money is paid, Crosby said, it is his client's legal right to know 
what Frederick's personal finances are.

Crosby said he is flexible on when or even if Frederick needs to come 
to Juneau to testify about his personal wealth, but must receive 
formal, written responses to his questions first. Crosby has 
requested copies of pay stubs, tax returns and Frederick's Social 
Security number, among other items.

Crosby said the informal information he's received from Mertz and 
Frederick so far is incomplete and worth "nothing."

"(Mertz) wants special treatment for his client here," Crosby said.

Andi Story, the board's president, deferred all questions about the 
lawsuit to Crosby. And Peggy Cowan, the Juneau School District's 
superintendent, was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

But School Board member Mark Choate was upset with Crosby's actions 
and said it was "inappropriate" for the attorney to seek such a small 
amount on the district's behalf.

"That's bull," Choate said. "That's gamesmanship of the highest rank."

In 2002, then- Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Deborah Morse 
took down Frederick's now famous banner that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" 
at a school-sponsored, off-campus event, and suspended him from school.

Frederick sued and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court, 
which sided with Morse and the board in 2007. Frederick then sued in 
District Court to determine if his actions were protected by the 
Alaska Constitution and if his banner constituted a legitimate 
political or social protest.

That court also favored the board, but Frederick is appealing the 
decision. The School Board rejected a settlement offer from Frederick 
asking for $8,000 for himself and $20,000 for legal fees after the 
District Court ruling.

Mertz said lawyers typically wait until a case is settled before 
moving forward with financial requests such as Crosby's.

But Crosby said the decision to further the issue was Frederick's, 
despite the fact that he'd already lost to the U.S. Supreme Court and 
had his case deemed "moot" in District Court.

"If (Frederick) wants this thing to go away, it can go away," Crosby said.

Mertz said Frederick cannot cover court costs and Crosby is trying to 
punish him for having the "effrontery" to take his case to the U.S. 
Supreme Court.

Frederick has sold the rights to his story to a movie studio, but 
Mertz said his client did not receive a large amount.

"I'm sure that's all gone," Mertz said.

The attorney said the slow mail system between China and the United 
States has hampered his client's ability to send written answers 
regarding details of his finances to Crosby. Mertz said he has 
offered to have his client testify by telephone, but that Crosby 
flatly refused.

In an e-mail to Mertz, Crosby wrote that if Frederick "had the 
financial wherewithal to attend high profile Supreme Court 
proceedings and to return to Juneau for Forth of July parades and 
publicity appearances, he can make himself available for the normal 
discovery contemplated by the federal rules, just like any other litigant."

Mertz said Frederick's trip to Juneau for the Fourth of July was paid 
for by supporters, and he never attended the Supreme Court hearings.

Frederick did recently send Crosby a written affidavit saying he 
lived in China, was an English teacher and made about $650 a month. 
He also said that he is unable to make payments on two credit cards 
and may "have to consider a personal bankruptcy" when he returns to 
the United States.

The affidavit was signed by Frederick and an official, whose name and 
title were written solely in Chinese. Crosby said the affidavit was 
vague and selective, and did not answer the questions legally 
required of Frederick.

"He just doesn't want to respond to the questions," said Crosby, 
adding that he will soon be responding to Mertz's motion. Mertz then 
has a chance to respond to Crosby before a judge has to decide on the motion.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom