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John R. Whelan, an assistant attorney general of Connecticut and the lead lawyer for the state in the Sheff v. O'Neill school-desegregation case, committed suicide late last month at his home in Bristol, Conn., the state attorney general's office said.

Mr. Whelan, 41, had played a crucial role in the as-yet-undecided case, which appeared to be the impetus for Connecticut's passage of a voluntary-school-desegregation bill.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of public school students in Hartford and civil-rights advocates in 1989, during the term of Gov. William A. O'Neill. The plaintiffs charged that the state had failed to provide the city's children with educational opportunities comparable to those given suburban children. (See Education Week, May 6, 1992.)

The state likely will seek a delay in the case, which was expected to be decided in Connecticut Superior Court in the coming months, state officials said.

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