The American Bankers Association charged late Thursday that the National Credit Union Administration is breaking the law by allowing institutions to serve employees from more than one company.

"The duty of the government and its officers is to obey the law, not to follow the private interests of credit union promoters," ABA lawyer Michael S. Helfer wrote in a brief. "Yet the NCUA continues to issue new illegal credit union expansion approvals, including new expansions totaling more than 76,000 people in August and another 57,000 people in September."

Mr. Helfer, a partner at the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, said the NCUA's defiance of a July 30 federal appeals court decision against it is "willful, public, and flagrant."

In that ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the agency broke the law when it let AT&T Federal Credit Union serve employees from more than 150 companies. Members must share a single common bond, the court said. The ABA, citing the July decision, has asked a federal judge to prevent the NCUA from granting additional field-of- membership expansions.

Justice Department lawyers, however, wrote in their brief that the ABA waited too long to bring its challenge, noting that the NCUA began approving such expansions 14 years ago.

"As a result of plaintiffs' delay in challenging the policy, it cannot now be invalidated without seriously threatening the stability, and even the very existence, of many of the 3,586 federal credit unions containing multiple groups that have invested much of their assets and staked their future growth in reliance upon the policy," wrote Assistant Attorney General Frank W. Hunger.

Also, David M. Malone, in a brief on behalf of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, noted that while the NCUA made 133,000 people eligible to join credit unions through field-of-membership expansions in August and September, only 1,500 signed up.

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