Disqualification of Master Sought in Alabama Desegregation Case

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Plaintiffs in the Mobile, Ala., school-desegregation case have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to disqualify a court-appointed master who would have broad discretion in identifying problems and recommending solutions to desegregate the district, according to Richard Blacksher, the plaintiffs' lawyer.

Mr. Blacksher characterized the special master, Lino Graglia, a Uni-versity of Texas law professor, as a staunch opponent of court-ordered desegregation and said that he is therefore unacceptable to mediate in the 21-year-old dispute.

"We're assuming that [the plaintiffs are] not willing to negotiate" a settlement between the parties with the help of the master, said Jay Larry Newton, the deputy superintendent in Mobile.

U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand last month had denied the plaintiffs' request to reconsider his appointment of Mr. Graglia last spring.

But on Oct. 1, the plaintiffs' appealed this denial and also asked the circuit court to rule on the merits of all the issues involved in the desegregation case, such as what steps need to be taken before the district can be considered unitary.

The lawyer for the Mobile school board, Robert C. Campbell, has reportedly said that the appointment of the special master was the first step toward achieving unitary status.

Data gathered by the plaintiffs in the case, Birdie Mae Davis v. Mobile County Board of School Supervisors, however, indicate that the school system is still far from desegregated, according to Mr. Blacksher. He said that 45 percent of black students attend all-black schools and that black students "are being discriminated against in the education product they are getting."

The circuit court is expected to rule on whether to hear the plaintiffs' appeal within several months, according to Mr. Blacksher.

Developments in Topeka

In the historic desegregation case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, which was reopened in 1979, the school board has declined an offer by the U.S. Justice Department to mediate the case.

According to Charles N. Henson, the lawyer for the Topeka, Kan., board, the Kansas City regional office of the U.S. Justice Department's community-relations service offered in mid-September to mediate between the two sides. But the board decided that since the plaintiffs had not specified their complaints, it would be premature to accept the offer of federal mediation, said Mr. Henson.

He said that the board did not close the door on mediation for the future.--jh

Vol. 04, Issue 07

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