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Newton law firm accused of placing racist ad

Posted by Sarah Thomas  June 2, 2010 03:26 PM

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A complaint filed last week with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleges that a foreclosure notice placed in the New Bedford Standard-Times by a Newton law firm contained racist language.

The legal notice, which first appeared May 17 and drew its wording directly from the property's deed, stated that ‘‘The said land shall not be sold, leased or rented to any person other than of the Caucasian race.’’

The statement was removed from later editions of the paper, and both the New Bedford Standard-Times and Harmon Law have issued apologies for the ad.

‘‘We do not condone the language and do not believe that it would be enforceable. It is industry practice to include in the notice of sale the exact legal description as set forth in the mortgage,’’ said Harmon Law in a statement. And Mary Harrington, the Standard-Times' publisher, said that ‘‘It was a gross error on our part to publish the notice and we sincerely apologize to our readers.’’

Officials at Harmon Law said that the ads are generated by scanning the deeds of foreclosed properties and checked for accuracy, but that the language is not closely scrutinized due to the high number of foreclosure notices the firm processes.

The complaint was filed by New Bedford resident Mandi Costa, who said she was first alerted to the ad by her father, a former employee of the MCAD.

‘‘I was shocked when I read it,’’ Costa said. ‘‘I did a lot of research, and found out that this used to be a common practice in property deeds. It just goes to show that racism and discrimination is still out there.’’

Costa said she hoped the complaint raised awareness of the issue, and would result in foreclosure advertisements being more carefully scrutinized.

‘‘Someone needs to take ownership of this problem,’’ she said.

The MCAD said the ad's language violated Chapter 151b of the Massachusetts General Laws, which states that racial discrimination in employment or housing practices is a crime.

‘‘If the parties are found guilty, there could be a fee assessed,’’ said Barbara Green, media liaison for the Massachusetts Council Against Discrimination. Green said she did not think the previous owner of the property was aware of the language contained in the deed.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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