The controversial lawsuit limiting credit union membership is unlikely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this year.

Announcing their final choices for the 1996-97 docket, the justices Friday left out the AT&T Family Federal Credit Union case.

That means the case may turn up on the list of rejected lawsuits expected from the court today. If that happens, the federal appeals court here would be free to prevent 3,586 occupation-based credit unions from serving groups of employees not related to their core memberships. It also would permit U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Jackson to address whether these credit unions must divest unrelated employee groups.

However, it is possible that the justices simply want more time to consider whether to take the case. If that is so, the case probably would not be argued until next fall, with a decision due in 1998.

Brenda S. Furlow, acting general counsel to the Credit Union National Association, said the industry could wait. "It would be difficult," she said. "But probably all the credit unions could survive financially."

Lawyers cautioned that an outside chance exists that the justices would still accept the case Tuesday. "That is highly unlikely," said Michael F. Crotty, deputy general counsel at the American Bankers Association. "But it is not beyond the realm of possibility."

The case began in December 1990 when four North Carolina banks and the ABA sued the National Credit Union Administration for letting AT&T Family serve employees from more than 150 unrelated companies. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the banks in July 1996, ruling that members of a credit union must share a single common bond.

Judge Jackson in October banned credit unions from accepting customers who do not share a common bond with the core membership, but the appeals court suspended enforcement of that ruling pending Supreme Court review.

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