After more than two years in hiding, Utah's thrift crisis has surfaced again with new lawsuits seeking to recover more money from accounting firms, lawyers and local businessmen.
Two complaints were filed last Friday in 3rd District Court against "Big Eight" accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand over its auditing of defunct Copper State Thrift & Loan. The identical complaints were filed in behalf of accounting firm Grant Thornton, liquidator and receiver of Copper State and the thrift's insolvent deposit insurer, the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp.Meanwhile, a 384-page "proposed form of complaint" has also been issued against a host of accounting firms, local lawyers and former thrift owners. The 2-inch-thick complaint, along with boxes of exhibits and supporting documents, was submitted to a state screening panel that will determine which claims can be pursued by depositors.
The lawsuits come more than two years after determined depositors hammered out a settlement with the state to recover most of the principal amount of their frozen accounts. Attorneys have been holed away building their cases.
Complaints against Coopers & Lybrand accuse the accounting firm of negligence, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract and warranty.
Both suits accuse Coopers & Lybrand of not following the accounting profession's accepted auditing standards, resulting in a distorted picture of Copper State's financial condition. Had the thrift's true financial condition been disclosed, the complaints said, Copper State officers, the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. and state regulators could have taken steps to correct the thrift's problems.
The complaints both seek damages determined at trial.
Richard Goode, managing partner of Coopers & Lybrand's local office, defended the firm's auditing of the thrift, saying it was done professionally and followed auditing standards.
Asked about being sued by another accounting firm, Goode said, "It is unusual."
Although both complaints are almost identical, the Copper State lawsuit accuses the accounting firm of inaccurately reporting the value of the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp.'s Net Worth Certificates, while the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. complaint doesn't mention the certificates.
Net Worth Certificates were issued by the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp., with approval of state regulators, to prop up the capital base of Copper State and other thrifts. But the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. was insolvent when it issued the certificates and unable to back them up.
State regulators seized the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. in the summer of 1986 and shut down Copper State and four other thrifts holding more than $100 million in deposits. Depositors faced losing as much as half of their savings through liquidating the institutions so they filed a class action suit against the state.
The state and its former insurance carrier settled with depositors for $60 million in late 1988. But the Legislature in ratifying the agreement required that a state-appointed screening panel review depositors' claims against remaining defendants and determine which claims can be pursued and which can't.
According to the settlement, the panel would determine if a claim could go to court depending on whether the claim was grounded in fact and made in good faith; the defendant had the resources to satisfy a possible judgment; and the case would result in additional exposure to the state.
With the state joining depositors as plaintiffs in the case, lawmakers feared defendants filing countersuits against the state based on arguments that they were only following orders from state regulators when they kept the bankrupt Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. and thrifts operating.
The unusual and powerful screening board received the proposed claims two weeks ago. The state and depositors intend to sue:
- Accounting firms Coopers & Lybrand, Touche Ross & Co., Peat Marwick, Main & Co., Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, and Deamer & Holbrook.
- Former law firm Watkiss & Campbell and attorneys Herschel J. Saperstein and Philip C. Pugsley.
- Nineteen former officers and directors of the five failed thrifts, including Utah Jazz owner car dealer Larry Miller, who owned Commerce Financial.
- More than 9,000 John Does.
The lengthy proposed complaint accuses the defendants of misleading depositors by masking the troubled financial condition of the failed thrifts and the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp. in publications distributed to depositors.
For damages, depositors seek remaining principal and interest not recovered in the settlement with the state, along with legal costs. The state and its insurer want to recover $44 million of the settlement it paid to depositors.