Justice Civil Rights Chief Departs with a Legacy of Deterring Loan Bias

By Seiberg, Jaret | American Banker, January 21, 1997 | Go to article overview

Justice Civil Rights Chief Departs with a Legacy of Deterring Loan Bias


Seiberg, Jaret, American Banker


Assistant Attorney General Deval L. Patrick, who resigned effective Monday, made lending bias a front-page issue.

In his two-and-a-half year tenure as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, Mr. Patrick challenged how banks underwrite and price loans, forcing hundreds of institutions to revamp their operations to root out discrimination.

Through a series of settlements, Mr. Patrick established that banks may not charge blacks, Hispanics, and women higher than normal rates simply because they are willing to pay more.

Lenders also must give whites and minorities equal chances to explain credit problems. Under Mr. Patrick, lenders became responsible for bias violations by independent mortgage brokers.

Though Mr. Patrick, 40, spent most of his time on issues such as defending affirmative action and investigating a rash of black church burnings, deterring lending discrimination is his legacy.

"He couldn't control affirmative action and the church burning were about an investigation of crimes that were slippery and elusive," one industry official said. "The banking cases were a creative use of his resources and an attempt to make a large impact with discreet and focused litigation."

Despite filing seven lending discrimination cases during his tenure, Mr. Patrick will be remembered primarily for challenging Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank's branching system.

The suit, filed and settled in August 1994 - just a few months after he took office - charged that the suburban Washington thrift violated equal credit laws by not serving minority communities. The settlement required the thrift to open new branches and advertise in minority areas.

The case jolted the industry, prompting bankers to charge the Justice Department with trying to allocate credit and micromanage the business.

"Chevy Chase was the first time the industry realized the Justice Department was going to make serious inroads into this area," an industry official said. "It galvanized the industry."

Mr. Patrick and his staff spent the next six months mending fences -addressing more than a dozen trade groups and establishing regular contacts with industry leaders. Justice did not file another fair- lending case until June 1995.

"Since Chevy Chase, he has been chastened," another industry official said. "After that, the dialogue became more open and more frequent."

Mr. Patrick said he has no regrets about the Chevy Chase case. "The Chevy Chase case was on balance very positive for the fair-lending program," he said in an interview. …

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