Groups say loan denial rates high

By Getahn Ward / Tennessean Staff Writer

Alleging unfair lending practices by AmSouth Bancorp and First American Corp., two community activist groups yesterday filed a complaint with the Federal Reserve Board seeking to block their proposed merger.

"Our main focus is the high denial rate by AmSouth of African-American applicants for credit," said Matthew Lee, executive director of the New York City-based Inner City Public lnterest Law Center.

The nonprofit law firm's filing on behalf of its affiliate Inner City Press/Community on the Move and New Orleans-based Citizens Against Legal Abuse requests public hearings on the merger deal.

The complaint could affect Birmingham, Ala -based AmSouth's plans to close its $% billion-plus purchase of Nashville-based First American by Oct 1. But analysts, calling the charges routine, said a delay of the merger isn't likely.

Officials with both banks agreed, stating yesterday that they have satisfactory Community Reinvestment Act ratings – the principal way hanks' tending practices have been judged.

In its 16-page filing with the Fed, Inner City cited AmSouth's denial rates for mortgage Ioans as being as much as four times higher for African-American applicants than for white applicants.

For specific markets, the complaint cited 1997 conventional home-purchase Ioan data for the following metropolitan areas served by AmSouth:

In Mobile, Ala., the bank denied 50% of African-American applicants vs. 14.5% of white applicants.

In Nashville,  25% of applications from African-Americans were denied vs. 6% of those from white  applicants.

And in Jacksonville, Fla., AmSouth denied 33% of applications from African-Americans vs. 14.3% of applications  from whites.

The banks' officials; however, countered yesterday that such raw data fail to consider factors like an applicant's existing debt and credit history.

"Both AmSouth and First American have strong records of providing loans to families living in low-to-moderate areas and (to) small businesses," said Jim Underwood, AmSouth 's spokesman in Birmingham. He noted that both banks have a double-review process to ensure fairness.

A $3.5 billion, 5-year commitment announced last week reflects the two banks' community development efforts, he added.

Inner City's Lee; however, claims the effort doesn't reach far enough.

Among other concerns related in the pending merger deal, Lee mentions:

First American's Deposit Guaranty Bank has a home-loan denial record similar to AmSouth's in several markets, including New Orleans.

The merger would have anti-competitive effects, primarily in the Chattanooga area, where AmSouth will have a much larger market share.

AmSouth already has begun implementing layoffs even before receiving regulatory approval for its deal to buy First American.

AmSouth officials; however, said they went ahead anticipating later regulatory approval.

Coalition is formed to fight unscrupulous legal practices

By Edmund W. Lewis
Staff Reporter

A coalition of ministers, elected officials and community activists gathered last week in Detroit, Michigan to discuss strategies for protecting the legal rights of African Americans and the poor. Out of the meeting, a new organization was formed with precisely that goal in mind.

Co-hosted by Louisiana State Representative Avery C. Alexander And State Representative Phillip West of Adams, Jefferson and Franklin Counties in Mississippi, the "Networking to help the Hopeless to obtain Equal Justice" Mini-Summit was sponsored by Citizens Against Legal Abuse, Inc. (CALA), a New Orleans-based, non-profit group determined to change the way poor and people of color are nation's legal system.

One of it's tactics in the struggle to achieve that will be "an aggressive, national protest campaign" that encourages those who feel they have not been given equal protection under the law to come forward and share their problem with the legal system with members of Citizens Against Legal Abuse.

Joining Rev. Alexander at the Mini-Summit were a number of State Representatives, Detroit City Council Members, members of the NAACP and the SCLC, as well as the Detroit media. During the summit, a task force was formed to investigate instances in which the legal system has been unfairly used against minorities and the poor.

On Thursday, August 14, Rev. Avery Alexander, civil rights activist/author Dick Gregory and several other members of Citizens Against Legal Abuse held a press conference at the airport and described some of the group's goals and objectives.

"The purpose of the Summit was to identify, discuss and inform Citizens of the abuse, corruption and gross miscarriage of justice in the judicial and legal systems as they affect the poor, underprivileged and minority citizens in this country. Also, to make aware the need for a national coalition to help eradicate the injustice". Alexander said.

In a brochure, the organization states that its primary goal is "to provide education, guidance and support services to victims of legal abuse and to expose the fraud and corruption perpetrated by attorneys, judges, politicians, banking and insurance officials, as well as other public service entities".

Although he didn't attend the Mini-Summit, civil rights activist Dick Gregory has agreed to serve as the group's honorary chairman.

Among those seeking help from Citizens Against Legal Abuse was Robert Lucien, a Shreveport businessman and CALA founder who says he was wronged in a land deal in which the bank allegedly did not act in an ethical manner. After his loan went into default and he was sued by the bank as a guarantor of the loan, Lucien discovered that the bank "made an illegal loan to a friend of theirs".

"I was involved in a land deal in which the attorneys in the bank represented themselves and all the people involved. They represented the selling of the land, they represented the borrower. They represented the buyer, they represented the lender. everybody was represented by the bank, the bank's attorney and the bank's director. There were no other lawyers involved in the case.

"Then when we went to court they lied. They didn't tell the truth about the deal. It's all documented, it's all in the records that it was untrue what they said. The judgment and all the proceedings and all just one big lie. We're trying to get the truth out. All we want is the truth, that's all. If we're  wrong, we'll suffer the consequences. But we want it to be true and legal according to law. Equal protection under the law."

From his troubles with the business and legal community, Lucien says that he found out that "there are more than a few cases of people who are abused in the system who have no other recourse out to them by these people in the courts.

"These powerful attorneys, banks and businessmen have ways of influencing the courts to rule in their favor while the poor and minority people have no way of defending themselves. In my case, I had a way of defending myself and they still managed to use the law and rule in their favor".

Lucien encouraged members of the community to watch very closely the manner in which the courts handle cases involving the rich and powerful and those with little money to hire a decent attorney. "They [attorneys and businessmen] break the law and be in the wrong. But then they go to court and the courts say it's ok, Lucien explained. "Our theme is "Networking to help the hopeless to attain equal justice" and that's exactly what we plan to do.

Lucien said the organization is seeking volunteers and supporters to help it to accomplish its goal of eliminating abuses in the legal system.

Among the activities the group has planned to fight inequities in the legal system are "a letter campaign to state and federal officials requesting immediate investigations into the judicial and legal systems in this District", a march on the national bank in Shreveport accused of unethical behavior and area businesses supported its questionable actions; and another Mini-Summit in North Carolina next month.

Asked how difficult it will be to convince people who have been let down by both the civil rights groups and the legal system to come forward with trust and ask Citizens Against Legal Abuse for help, Dick Gregory told The Louisiana Weekly, "We have to understand that once you've been bitten by a mad dog, then everybody's dog is suspect. That's why we have to have love. We're not just here to help you, we have to understand the scars that you've been through. We have to understand what it's like to know that a lawyer made a multimillion-dollar.

Settlement and you're sitting in your living room without enough to eat…You have to have a lot of love and a lot of compassion when you're dealing with people who have been scarred.

"Some of them have mental problems, some of them have just gone stone cracy. Some of them have turned to alcohol, some of the just turn evil and mean and start striking back. Nothing will break up a family more than when you desperately need help and can't get it. You start attacking the people who are closest to you.

"So this is our job, to say that help is on the way. We have to be strong, we have to be rested and have our spiritual thing together. And as it begins to happen, word spreads all over the country that you can make a difference. We were like that, there was a time when we didn't trust the courts. But Thurgood Marshall recorded one victory after another and people began to believe. We have a similar battle to wage, we have to earn the trust and the confidence of the people."

Those interested in getting more information about Citizens Against Legal Abuse should call (504) 821-9580 or write to the organization at P.O. Box 51386, New Orleans, Louisiana 70151-1386.

Getting off the hook lightly

Bob Varley, printed April 15, 1996, Times Picayune

Once again, our judicial system has demonstrated its predilection for coddling the wealthy or well connected. The latest example involves former congressman and current mega-thief Dan Rostenkowski.

On April 9, Mr. Rostenkowski entered a guilty plea to reduce charges of stealing $693,867 from the American taxpayers. For this crime, he was sentenced to 17 months in a federal prison and a fine of $100,000 leaving Mr. Rostenkowski with a net profit of $592,876.

This sentence endorses betrayal of the public trust. Anything less than full restitution is unacceptable. I would gladly serve 17 months at a federal country club for a half-million dollar payoff. Hey, Dan, let's make a deal!!!

Group probes racial fairness in state courts

By Bill Voelker, Staff Writer, printed Feb. 1, 1995 Times Picayune

Only handful present to testify

New Orleans Traffic Court is geared to intimidate people, especially minorities, into not contesting tickets, an opening witness Tuesday told a state group probing racial and ethnic fairness in the courts. "Police are there telling you they're going to make you pay regardless."

"So why don't you pleaded guilty and get it over with," George Burgess III, 36, said of an experience in Traffic Court. "You're found guilty when you walk through the door." Burgess, speaking of the last of a series of hearings held by the Louisiana Task Force on Facial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, was one of the two African-Americans who said they had received unfair treatment in state courts.

A third witness, a Vietnamese recommend strategies for developing "a vision of fairness" in state courts. Co-chaired by Orleans Civil District Judge Max Tobias and 3rd Circuit Appeal Judge Ulysses Thibodeaus of Lake Charles, the session opened at 9:20 a.m. The fewer than 10 people present to speak were out numbered by panel members and news media.

Proceedings were recessed at about 10:30 a.m. after no more witnesses signed up to speak. But Anthony Gagliano, with the high court's Judicial Council said other witnesses were expected to arrive in the afternoon. The hearing was scheduled to close at 6 p.m.

On questionnaires distributed by panel members, the public could check off types of court discrimination they have experienced or observed. The group also seeks opinion of vision statement in 11 areas.



Citizens Against Legal Abuse
P.O. Box 51386
New Orleans, LA 70151-1386
(504) 821-9580
Copyright© 1998, 1999
 Citizens Against  Legal Abuse, Inc.


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