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Thursday, May 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Starr to take on appeal over "bong" banner

JUNEAU, Alaska — Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor, will represent the city school board in appealing a court ruling that favored a high-school student who displayed a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner during an Olympic torch relay.

The school board wants the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. In April, an appeals court said school officials violated the student's free speech rights when they suspended him for 10 days.

Starr, who is dean at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, Calif., has agreed to take the case for free, 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," Carlson said.

A spokeswoman for Starr declined to comment about the case Wednesday. Starr was independent counsel in the Whitewater hearings, and his investigation into former President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky led to Clinton's impeachment.

Joseph Fredrick was 18 and a high school senior in 2002 when he unfurled his banner during the Winter Olympic torch relay through Juneau, hoping to grab the attention of television cameras.

School district officials said his banner violated the school's anti-drug policies and suspended him despite the fact that he was off campus at the time and did not disrupt school functions.

Frederick sued the school district but lost in federal court when a judge ruled that school officials had wider discretion to control his actions and were entitled to regulate speech that encouraged drug use.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco disagreed, saying school officials violated Fredrick's free speech rights.

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