WASHINGTON -- For former Department of Justice fair-lending expert Richard Ritter, retirement has proven busier than government service.
The man who spearheaded all five of Justice's fair-lending prosecutions of banks -- including the controversial action against Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank -- has started his own consulting service, which he tuns from his home here.
And so far, at least, all his clients are organizations fighting with banks over lending practices.
"I am just very interested in this issue," Mr. Ritter said. "Having spent my entire career in the area of civil rights enforcement, I think it is one area that I can still contribute to in a positive way that is viewed as constructive. I know that might not sit well with the industry, but I do believe this."
Mr. Ritter's immediate contributions will come from two places.
First, the Department of Housing and Urban Development hired him to provide technical assistance and training to its staff on how to identify and pursue potential fair-lending violators.
And, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs retained him to search the Baltimore-Washington area to find banks that are refusing to lend in certain neighborhoods.
Not that he isn't interested in working for banks too. Mr. Ritter said once the HUD and Lawyers' Committee contracts expire in January, he will consider working for the private sector.
"I really want to play a constructive role in the evolution of fair lending," Mr. Ritter said. "And, if I can be of assistance to the industry, I certainly wouldn't turn it down."
Business should remain strong for Mr. Ritter and other fair-lending consultants, banking advocates said. The reason: banks are desperately seeking individuals to advise them on how to avoid the government's spotlight.
"If you don't know what the final rules are, you want someone to tell you the latest and the greatest," said C. Dawn Causey, regulatory counsel to the Savings and Community Bankers of America.
Karen Thomas, regulatory counsel to the Independent Bankers Association of America, said bankers have a definite need for more information. "It is very hot," she said of fair lending. "It'll stay that way for as long as Justice, HUD, and the agencies continue and I see nothing on the horizon to end this."
At the same time, whenever demand for a particular service grows, providers naturally start appearing, One of those competitors, Lucy Griffin of Compliance Management Services in Falls Church, Va., said the market for fair-lending experts may become saturated at some point, but it's still open now.
Ms. Griffin also said she sees nothing wrong with a former official leaving government service to work on the same issues. "As a practical matter, that's how it's done," Ms. Griffin said.
All agree that few are more qualified to consult than Mr. Ritter, who helped develop the government's efforts to enforce the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
That's one reason why HUD retained him, Mr. Ritter said.
While public affairs officials at HUD were unable to make anyone from the department available for this article, Mr. Ritter said his first job there is to create a paper detailing how the Justice Department handles fair-lending cases.
"HUD wants to see if more could be said to the industry and if so, what my views are," Mr. Ritter said.
Second, HUD wants him to teach its investigators how to conduct pattern-of-praCtice studies so the agency can pursue violations of the Fair Housing Act on its own.
He also will provide training on fair-lending issues in general and he will teach the department about redlining cases, including those involving insurance.
Mr. Ritter said he is looking forward to the work. "It gives me an opportunity to step away from litigating at Justice and think about these issues a little more dispassionately," he said.
The Lawyers' Committee work is close to what he did at Justice, Mr. Ritter said, He will review Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data to determine if financial institutions in the Washington-Baltimore area are violating the ECOA and the Fair Housing Act.
"It's an interesting experiment to me," he said, adding that he is unsure if he will find any problems.
"There is no way this study could fairly accuse a lender or group of lenders of violating fair-lending laws," Mr. Ritter said, "[but,] there may be enough information developed to allow the Lawyers' Committee to assess if there is a potential for a lawsuit. That final judgment needs to be the Lawyer's Committee's."
The Lawyers' Committee picked Mr. Ritter solely because of his Justice Department experience, said John Relman, director of the group's fair housing project.
"His knowledge and understanding of lending discrimination is probably unsurpassed in this country," Mr. Relman said.
Mr. Ritter joined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assist with field investigations shortly after graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1968.
He switched to Justice in 1971, where he worked in the civil rights division until his retirement in June.