World and Nation

Shorts (left)

High Court To Hear Case Alleging Anti-White Bias in Job Promotion

Frank Ricci has been a firefighter here for 11 years, and he would do just about anything to advance to lieutenant.

The last time the city offered a promotional exam, he said in a sworn statement, he gave up a second job and studied up to 13 hours a day. Ricci, who is dyslexic, paid an acquaintance more than $1,000 to read textbooks onto audiotapes. He made flashcards, took practice tests, worked with a study group and participated in mock interviews.

Ricci did well, he said, coming in sixth among the 77 candidates who took the exam. But the city threw out the test, because none of the 19 African-American firefighters who took it qualified for promotion. That decision prompted Ricci and 17 other white firefighters, including one Hispanic, to sue the city, alleging racial discrimination.

Their case, which will be argued before the Supreme Court on April 22, is the Roberts Court’s first major confrontation with claims of racial discrimination in employment and will require the justices to choose between conflicting conceptions of the government’s role in ensuring fair treatment regardless of race.

Advocates Help Squatters Find Homes in Foreclosures

When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here in December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection.

What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.

Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.

In Recession, More DefendantsAct As Their Own Lawyers

Elise Barros made her way to the front of the courtroom here, convinced that the lawsuit against her was a mistake and would be quickly dismissed.

“I don’t understand why I’m even here,” said Barros, who was challenging a lender’s claim that she owed it more than $7,000. She had repaid the loan, she told the judge in state court in March. “I have proof — documents.”

What she did not have was a lawyer.

So the judge sent her and the lender’s lawyer into a mediation session, where it became clear that Barros actually did not have the documents, at least not the right ones. When the judge returned to her case later in the day, he ordered her to come back in three weeks when the process began again.

Financially pressed people like Barros are representing themselves more and more in court, according to judges, lawyers and courthouse officials across the country, raising questions of how just the outcomes are and clogging courthouses already facing their own budget woes as clerks spend more time helping people unfamiliar with forms, filings and fees.