The government appointed Thrift Task Force met behind closed doors this week to discuss options in settling a class action lawsuit against the state brought by several thousand citizens who lost their savings in the failure of five Utah thrift and loans.
Task force co-chairman Rep. Frank Knowlton, R-Layton, called for the executive session to discuss "sensitive" areas of strategy, litigation and acquisition of thrift assets - which could become "the largest purchase of real property ever by the state," he said.Acquiring thrift assets, now being liquidated by accounting firm Grant Thornton and former thrift owner and car dealer Larry H. Miller, is one option the task force could consider in financing a bonding package that would reimburse depositors, an attorney said.
About 15,000 depositors had $100 million in five thrift and loans when state regulators shut down the thrifts' insolvent deposit insurer, the Industrial Loan Guaranty Corp., on July 31, 1986. The five failed thrifts have been in liquidation for about one year and total depositor losses are estimated at $46 million.
Depositors have filed lawsuits against the state and former thrift owners to recover the anticipated losses. Task force attorney William Thomas Thurman said one option for the task force to do nothing in the way of settlement and continue the court battles by not admitting liability.
Another option, Thurman said, is for the state to admit full or partial liability and ask its insurance carriers to pay depositor claims. He explained that a legislative appropriation could be made to pick up what insurance carriers won't pay, or to cover the depositors' attorneys fees.
Thurman also said the task force could opt to offer a settlement "less than the full amount asked for by the depositors, yet more than what the state might be willing to admit at the present time."
An appropriation could be constitutionally valid if the Legislature recognized the thrift crisis as a public problem affecting a large segment of state's population.
Local attorney Ray Christensen, hired to represent the state in depositor litigation, downplayed the use of insurance. He said that admitting liability, the insurance companies would claim the state had breached contracts by voluntarily giving up any defense.
Christensen said that a settlement offer currently before depositors' legal counsel includes some insurance proceeds, but he declined to disclose the amount or the carrier unless the panel went into executive session.
He explained that no more of the $200 million in coverage was available because depositors' allegations would have occurred after July 1, 1985 when state liability coverage expired. Utah state government is now self-insured.
Other settlement options Thurman discussed were:
- Reconsider creating a "super thrift," by consolidating the failed thrifts, backed by state guarantees to maximize coverage.
- Ask Utah's banking industry to assume thrift deposits in return for thrift assets and tax breaks.
- Bonding to generate proceeds to reimburse depositors. The bond would be financed through proceeds from liquidating thrift assets assigned to the state. The state could also share responsibility in the liquidation with Grant Thornton and Miller to pay off the bond.
Thurman also suggested the task force consider a combination of the options to come up with a settlement offer.