WASHINGTON - A federal judge ruled Thursday that the Office of Thrift Supervision followed proper procedure last April when it adopted a rule allowing healthy, federally chartered savings and loans to branch nationwide.

The suit had been brought by the Independent Bankers Association of America and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. They charged that the OTS's 30-day comment period after publishing the proposed rule was inadequate.

Anticipating a court setback, the two trade groups subsequently convinced the Senate to pass legislation that would freeze the interstate rule for 15 months.

Fear on Competition

"The only permanent solution is legislation," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the IBAA, whose small-town bank members fear competition from big, out-of-state S&Ls.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the thrift agency followed proper procedure and adequately responded to comments submitted on its branching proposal.

T. Timothy Ryan, director of the OTS, proposed the rule on Dec. 30, 1991, as a means of improving the safety and soundness of the industry.

Several S&Ls have filed interstate applications with the OTS, according to Patrick Forte, president of the Association of Financial Services Holding Companies.

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