NationsBank Corp. told a federal judge Monday that a civil rights group twisted the facts to concoct a case against the bank. It asked the court to dismiss several of the charges, and it "adamantly" denied the remaining claims. "The pleadings filed today speak for themselves and are entirely consistent with NationsBank's stated position that the lawsuit is without merit," said Andrew Sandler, the bank's lawyer, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs sued NationsBank Sept. 22, charging that it rejected 12 home mortgage applicants because of their race. The committee asked the court for class-action status for the suit, which would make this the largest fair-lending case ever. NationsBank, in an unusually detailed response, said the charges were bogus. It said the lawyers committee used misleading statistics and solicited plaintiffs through a toll-free number. "The amended complaint seeks to obfuscate and distort NationsBank's outstanding record of lending to African-Americans," the bank said. John P. Relman, the director of the fair-housing project at the lawyers committee, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment. Richard Ritter, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on the case, did not return a call for comment. NationsBank denied discriminating against any of the 12 plaintiffs. It said these applicants all sought to finance at least 95% of the sales price. It also said that most applicants applied for additional loans to cover the down payment and closing costs, pushing the loan-to-value ratio near 100%. "The plaintiffs whose loan applications were declined by the mortgage company had their applications denied only after careful consideration of their loan qualifications under appropriate NationsBank underwriting standards applied uniformly and fairly to all applicants," the bank said. The bank also took issue with the lawyers committee assertion that the Acorn Housing Corp. was authorized to prequalify applicants for NationsBank loans. It said Acorn only counsels applicants on how the loan process works. It also attacked Bridgette and Ronald Lathern, two of the more vocal plaintiffs. The bank said the Latherns had numerous late payments, including some that were 120 days past due. "The Latherns' joint credit report evidences the Latherns' inability or refusal to pay their debts in a timely fashion at the very time they were seeking over $136,000 from the mortgage company for a home with a purchase price of $136,250," it said. The bank told the court it is confident it will prevail. "NationsBank's outstanding and nondiscriminatory record in mortgage lending to African-Americans will be demonstrated in this action, and the false and misleading allegations upon which the amended complaint is based will be shown to be totally without merit," the bank said. The lawyers committee now has 10 days to answer the bank's response.
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