Neighbor Charged Under Anti-bias Law with Blocking Sale of House to Jew

A hearing has been set for June 5 in the first civil rights case in this state in which a neighbor, who allegedly violated anti-discrimination statutes in blocking the sale of a house to a Jew, faces the same punitive damages hitherto applied only to homeowners or real estate brokers. Meanwhile, an apparent news blackout was imposed on the case by two of New Jersey’s leading daily newspapers. According to George S. Pfaus, director of the Civil Rights division, the two papers failed to publish the announcement from his office that a hearing would be held on the State’s complaint against John C. McDonough, 43, president of the R.A. McDonough Co., of Orange, one of New Jersey’s largest tire dealers.

According to affidavits filed in the Newark office of the State Civil Rights Division, Mr. McDonough allegedly blocked the sale of a $75,000 house in Essex Falls, next to his to Myron S. Lehman. The sellers, Mr. and Mrs. Christian Heidt III, agreed on price with Mr. Lehman whose family consists of his wife and two children. Division affidavits indicate that when Mr. McDonough heard of the sale to a Jew, he “raised holy hell in the neighborhood.” Mr. McDonough denied, in an interview, that he had attempted to interfere with the sale, but repeated his opposition to Mr. Lehman at a conciliation conference arranged by the state. Mr. Lehman said that when he attempted to arrange an interview with Mr. McDonough at his office, the latter refused, telling him, “I moved from South Orange to get away from your kind of people.”

The state is charging McDonough with violating the New Jersey law against discrimination which states that “it shall be an unlawful discrimination for any person…to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden in this act, or to attempt to do so.” Mr. Lehman subsequently purchased an $85,000 house in Short Hills. Mr. Pfaus said that if Mr. McDonough was found guilty of the charge in a division hearing, he could be ordered to pay the additional $10,000 that Mr. Lehman had to pay for another house as well as the fee lost by the real estate broker and the lawyers who handled the aborted transaction. The finding of the division is enforceable by the courts and can be appealed in the Appellate Division of Superior Court.

Robert Kohler, state executive director of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, told the JTA that he did not want to believe that a deliberate black-out was imposed on the case by the newspapers. It was his office which brought the case to the attention of the Civil Rights Division.

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