- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

A federal judge has ordered a new trial in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the D.C. government of discriminating against a group home for disadvantaged youth that sought to open on Capitol Hill.

The ruling, issued Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson, calls for the trial to start Sept. 17, a setback to the District, which asked for the case to be thrown out after a mistrial in December.

The Justice Department’s civil rights lawsuit says the District broke federal housing laws by discriminating against the nonprofit Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Home, known as Boys Town.

Boys Town, which applied for permits to open a group home on Potomac Avenue in Southeast, sued the District in 2001 in a case eventually consolidated within the Justice Department’s lawsuit.

The Justice Department and Nebraska-based Boys Town say city officials kept the group home from opening by stonewalling project applications amid “discriminatory” community opposition to the project.

After the mistrial, the District asked a judge to throw out the case, citing a lack of “direct evidence of handicap or racial discrimination against the Boys Town project.”

In recent pleading, attorneys for the District also disputed the notion there was any racial element to the community’s opposition to the project.

The primary group opposed to the project, Southeast Citizens for Smart Development, “preferred economic/retail development at that valuable site,” the D.C. Office of the Attorney General argued.

But Justice Department attorneys disagree, saying permits for the Boys Town project with space for fewer than 40 children were delayed three years, while a 200-unit condo and retail development project that ultimately moved into the location “proceeded quickly and efficiently.”

“Discriminatory intent can be proven by demonstrating that public officials responded in part to private citizens who were motivated by discrimination,” Justice Department attorneys argued in a recent legal memo.

One of the Justice Department’s key witnesses in the case was former D.C. Deputy Mayor Carolyn N. Graham, now a school board member. She testified in a deposition that she perceived racial undertones to the community’s opposition.

But D.C. attorneys noted that the Southeast Citizens for Smart Development was racially-diverse and chaired by resident Will Hill, who is black.

The District also argued that Boys Town ultimately profited in the project, selling the property for millions of dollars more than the purchase price after the group decided not to pursue the project. A judge granted a mistrial in the case in December, saying jurors were split on the verdict.

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