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In Run-Up To Meeting, Lawsuits Were Flying

VANCOUVER, Wash.-A flurry of lawsuits blurred the run-up to last week's special meeting of the Columbia CU members, with both sides seeking some kind of advantage through the courts.

Members were voting by mail ballot last week on the unprecedented bid to recall eight of the nine board members who had voted for the ill-fated conversion to mutual savings bank. The recall initiative, forced by a member petition signed by 3,600 credit union members, was to culminate in a special meeting Sunday, March 28, where the remainder of the voting was to occur.

Dissident members, seeking to recall the board for its support of the controversial conversion bid, finally asked the state court last week to throw out the mail ballot because of the overwhelming resources the credit union expended on behalf of the endangered directors. "We emphasized that this is a mockery of democracy and is a far cry from what anyone could have contemplated reading the statute on removal of the board," said Doug Schafer, an attorney for Save Columbia CU, after a hearing on the group's suit.

He was referring to what was estimated to be as much as $100,000 spent by the credit union to help retain the directors, money spent on advertising in local newspapers and on radio, on telephone solicitation of the credit union's 60,000 members, the high-priced Portland law firm of Miller Nash, and an expensive proxy solicitation by Mellon Financial Services, usually reserved for Wall Street takeover battles.

Meantime, the credit union filed suit in the same court, Clark County Superior Court, asking the judge to ban the dissidents from campaigning on any credit union property.

And earlier, the dissidents had filed a separate suit asking that five of the directors be disqualified for running for reelection because they have exceeded the nine-year board term limits they approved themselves in 1999. That suit could come to bear after the special meeting when members are scheduled to vote again at the regular meeting on four board vacancies. If the judge rules the five incumbents are no longer eligible for the board it could open a majority of the board's nine seats, noted Schafer.

Sam's Club To Offer Car Loans

BENTON, Ark.-Sam's Club, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores, has begun offering car loans to its members, in direct competition with credit unions and other auto lenders. Sam's Club is providing its auto loans through RoadLoans, a web-based division of Triad Financial Corp., itself a subsidiary of Ford Motor Credit Co. Sam's Club recently began advertising the loans in its stores and on its website.

NJCUL Launches Statewide Ads

HIGHTSTOWN, N.J.-The New Jersey Credit Union League and 33 of its affiliated credit unions are launching their first-ever statewide advertising campaign today.

The 30-second animated commercial will reach 95% of the New Jersey market, airing on TNT, TBS and the Weather Channel on cable television.

CUSO Uses Rembrandt System

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-Southeast Corporate FCU said its CUSO, Member Business solutions, will implement Bankers Systems' Rembrandt Lending System for business loan documentation. The CUSO has begun a program to help credit unions start their own business lending programs.

U.S. Bank Expands In-Store Network

PHOENIX-U.S. Bank said it is opening 12 more branches inside Safeway stores in the Phoenix area, giving the Portland, Ore.-based bank a total of 30 in-store branches in the region. The new branches will be open seven days a week and offer a full range of services. The new branches are part of U.S. Bank's agreement with Safeway to open a total of 163 in-store branches in the supermarket chain's Safeway and Vons stores in Arizona, California and Nevada by 2005. U.S. Bank has the third largest in-store branch network among U.S. banks.

The Credit Union Journal's On Deadline coverage is sponsored by Liberty. For info: www.libertysite.com.

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