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Judge moves up court date in Weaver civil-rights case

Wendy Weaver's civil-rights lawsuit against the Nebo School District moved to a faster track Monday at the urging of a federal judge.

Her lawyers, meanwhile, are optimistic the case may be resolved outside of a courtroom altogether.David B. Watkiss, Weaver's attorney, said Weaver and school officials are "living together quite nicely" and that the lesbian Spanish Fork High School psychology teacher is able to do her job without interference.

He told U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins Monday during a status hearing on the lawsuit that he is "always hopeful" that the case may be settled without extensive litigation. The American Civil Liberties Union is also representing Weaver in the case.

"There ought to be a way this could get worked out. She's still teaching there and they want her teaching," Watkiss said outside the courtroom. "Any issue of her sexual orientation is known by virtue of this lawsuit, so any issue of the gag order is basically moot."

Weaver filed the lawsuit after Nebo officials refused to clarify a July 22 memo that directed her not to talk about her lesbian lifestyle to students, staff members or students' parents. It also admonished Weaver not to answer questions about "your sexual orientation or anything else concerning the subject."

The school stripped Weaver of her duties as volleyball coach; despite protests from a vocal group of parents, Weaver continues to teach at Spanish Fork High School.

In the suit, Weaver states she had no intention of discussing the subject with students. But the district's order was so vague and broad that it violated her right to free speech under the Constitution. She wants it removed from her personnel file.

The district attempted to clarify its memo in documents filed in response to Weaver's suit. The district says it never meant to keep Weaver from talking about her lifestyle beyond the "school community."

The district asserts, however, it has a right to place some restrictions on Weaver's speech in the school community to "prevent disruption of school functions" or student performance. Assistant attorneys general Martha S. Stonebrook and Robert C. Morton are representing the district and four school officials named in the lawsuit.

Jenkins said Monday the legal question in the case is straightforward and balked at a time frame proposed by both sets of lawyers that set a pretrial hearing for April 1, 1999.

Why take so long?, the judge asked.

"It doesn't look like that complex of a case," he said. "As you look at it, it doesn't look like there's much need for discovery at all."

Pam Martinson, ACLU staff attorney, told Jenkins the legal teams agreed to stretch fact-finding and depositions through the summer to avoid disrupting school.

"There is a problem getting these folks together because all these folks are teaching school," Watkiss said.

But Jenkins said the lawyers could do that and still move the pretrial date up. He told the attorneys to have discovery and depositions finished by Aug. 31, and he set a pre-trial hearing for Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m.

Weaver is involved in a second lawsuit filed by Citizens of Nebo School District for Moral and Legal Values. The group believes Weaver engaged in activities while working as a coach that contributed to the delinquency of minors.

The suit includes allegations that Weaver encouraged team members to avoid having boyfriends and allowed open displays of affection during all-night hot tub parties.