Patterico's Pontifications

11/6/2008

“Bong Hits 4 Jesus” Student Nets $45,000

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Law — DRJ @ 10:20 am



[Guest post by DRJ]

The Juneau-Douglas (Alaska) School District and former student Joseph Frederick have reached a settlement in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case we blogged on last year. The school district will pay Frederick $45,000, plus it is “required to hire a neutral constitutional law expert to chair a forum on student speech” at its high school at a cost of up to $5,000.

The payment is purportedly for additional claims not resolved in the Supreme Court litigation, but last November the reports said the appeal left only one remaining issue:

“That left only Frederick’s demand that the school district remove any references to discipline associated with his display of the banner, [School district spokesperson Susan] Christianson said. Since the school district already expunged the records, the judge dismissed Frederick’s claims as moot, she said.”

I suspect this is a nuisance settlement where the school district paid to avoid further litigation costs that could dwarf the cost of the settlement. I understand that, especially when public money is involved, but it sends the message that Frederick was right and the school district was wrong.

Prior posts are here, here, here, here and here and, as noted at the last link, there are plans to make this incident into a movie about a “young man standing up for his rights.”

Who won this case again?

— DRJ

17 Responses to ““Bong Hits 4 Jesus” Student Nets $45,000”

  1. Taking the path of least resistance is not always the correct constitutional, legal, or moral path.

    Courage in Academe writ large!

    Another Drew (57deb8)

  2. Who won this case again?

    The lawyers.

    SteveIL (c752bd)

  3. Yeah, I’m guessing that pretty much the entire settlement value of this case reflect the possibility — probably a fairly remote one, which reflects the heavy discount over what I’m certain was far, far more than $45k — that the District might end up having to pay legal fees on that remaining claim if the plaintiff prevailed on it. Even a trivial award of actual damages might have triggered liability for a huge pile of fees. I can’t say this was an imprudent settlement, but I agree, DRJ, that it sends an unfortunate message to a lot of people.

    On the other hand, since it’s likely to be applied to actual out-of-pocket expenses already incurred before anything else, and there may not be much left for anyone after that, it’s not too likely to encourage lawyers for potential plaintiffs to take more of these cases. It’s almost certain that when their opportunity costs are factored in, even if there’s much left after expenses, these lawyers lost money. (They may hope to recoup it in part on future business based on prestige from having litigated a high-profile SCOTUS case, but that’s pretty speculative.)

    Beldar (1a2c77)

  4. A trademark application for BONG HITS 4 JESUS went abandoned about two weeks ago. The application had been refused because the PTO Examining Attorney took the position that:

    Applicant’s proposed mark BONG HITS 4 JESUS is scandalous because it uses the name of a deity that is worshipped by a well-established group of people and suggests that people should engage in an illegal activity either in worship of that deity or for the benefit of that deity.

    b (df882e)

  5. It’s an outage that school officials think they can regulate speech outside of school.

    The district deserves their high legal fees and this $45,000 settlement.

    Daryl Herbert (4ecd4c)

  6. America, where everyone enjoys an equal right to be an asshole — right, Herbert?

    Icy Truth (0466e6)

  7. I would be more upset about this, but after the news about the circular firing squad attacking Gov. Palin and hearing Newsweek editor Evan Thomas admitting only AFTER the election that Obama’s “cult of personality” creeps him out, I’m fresh outta upset.

    Besides, $45K is chump change next to the case that sends me into a rage just thinking about it — Donna Jean Summers, that McDonald’s manager who was stupid enough to believe a prank caller impersonating a cop. To make a long, sad, and unbelievably sordid story short: In 2006, because of Summers’ idiocy, an 18-year-old female employee ended up strip-searched inside her office, and eventually sexually assaulted by Summers’ own fiancee.

    The man suspected of being the phone prankster was incredibly acquitted despite significant circumstantial evidence. The employee sued McDonald’s for $200 million, and was awarded $6 million by the jury. Summers’ fiance pleaded guilty to assault and is currently in prison. Summers? She was predictably fired, but then sued Mickey D’s for $50 million, claiming they didn’t properly warn her about prank calls.

    A jury awarded her $1,100,000.00. That’s right! Donna Summers became a millionaire not despite being a famn dool, but because she is a famn dool! I am NOT making that up.

    L.N. Smithee (ecc5a5)

  8. LN – That has to be in the Top 5 worst verdicts ever. That ranks up there with the McDonald’s hot coffee award.

    JD (008a90)

  9. And the robber that sued a homeowner when they got hurt robbing the house.

    JD (008a90)

  10. “Neutral” on free speech means what, exactly? Sounds like “favors some censorship, but not a lot.”

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  11. We really need to bring the rights-privileges distinction back to constitutional law. The fact that school districts have to go through crap like this–and they do, constantly, all over the country–is an evil far greater than any benefit we supposedly get from allowing students to sue schools for censoring speech. We need to go back to the days when courts would say, “You may have the right to free speech, but you have no right to this government benefit. You have no business taking the benefit and then challenging the constitutionality of the way that benefit is handed out.” And students who feel that they’re not getting the freedom they deserve to express their stupid opinions can just be homeschooled, or move to Berkeley, for all I care.

    Alan (551a6d)

  12. Sorry, JD: The McDonald’s incident happened in 2004, not 2006, FWIW.

    L.N. Smithee (ecc5a5)

  13. “That ranks up there with the McDonald’s hot coffee award.”

    IMO, the award in that case was just.

    Dave Surls (7927a1)

  14. “Donna Jean Summers, that McDonald’s manager who was stupid enough to believe a prank caller impersonating a cop. To make a long, sad, and unbelievably sordid story short: In 2006, because of Summers’ idiocy, an 18-year-old female employee ended up strip-searched inside her office, and eventually sexually assaulted by Summers’ own fiancee.”

    I just read three articles on that case, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    Talk about a miscarriage of justice!

    Assuming that the facts are as reported, Summers should have recieved a lengthy jail sentence, and been forced to pay part of the damages Ms. Ogborn was awarded. There is no way she should have recieved any kind of settlement.

    Dave Surls (7927a1)

  15. Uh, the kids won the case. Not just because the Supreme Court’s narrow decision — which usually is the smartest way — didn’t settle the matter.
    The kids won because, ta-da, the grownups overreacted. There’s plenty of precedent for that.

    Larry Reilly (d11f9a)

  16. Dave Surls wrote: I just read three articles on that case, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    To me, the worst part is that if you believe Summers’ side of the story, the whole thing only stopped after three hours of humiliation because of Summers’ janitor who — despite having had only a grade school education — had the good sense to say, “This can’t be right.” To my knowledge, that man hasn’t gotten a cent for being the only person smart enough to ask why a cop would ask a civilian to perform a strip search over the phone.

    L.N. Smithee (abed3f)

  17. LN – The mind, it boggles.

    JD (008a90)


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