A U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge this month awarded Simon and the co-executors of the estate of his father, former Treasury secretary William E. Simon Sr., $12.9 million in a breach-of-contract lawsuit with the federal government over a savings and loan his father helped rescue in the 1980s.
The $98 million decision in favor of Southern California Federal Savings & Loan Association and its investors was one of the first decisions in more than 120 lawsuits over legislation that caused millions of dollars of losses to federal thrifts.
In the 1980s, federal regulators, looking for incentives to attract investors to save failing savings and loans, agreed to let them count intangible assets called “goodwill” as capital, which would make it easier for the thrifts to meet minimum regulatory requirements for soundness. But in 1989, Congress reversed those credits in the S&L bailout bill. The Supreme Court, in United States v. Winstar, ruled in 1996 that the change was legal, but that the government had to compensate the thrifts for their losses.
Lawsuits followed and dozens of lawyers and law firms, many in the District, are engaged in what is known as the Winstar litigation with the Justice Department, which has refused to settle most of the cases out of court.
William E. Simon Sr. and Preston Martin, former Federal Reserve chairman, along with a group of investors applied in 1986 to acquire the Beverly Hills thrift, known as SoCal. Eventually, the group secured the thrift and was allowed $297 million in goodwill and other credits to try to make the institution a going concern, said Howard N. Cayne, an Arnold & Porter attorney representing the widow of investor Larry B. Thrall.
SoCal filed suit in 1995. Two of the plaintiffs died before the decision. Simon died in 2000 and Thrall died in 1998 at Washington Hospital Center from complications of diabetes; he had come to Washington to prepare for trial. In his 65-page decision, Judge Lawrence M. Baskir quoted Thrall’s widow, Beverly, saying the government’s breach caused Thrall’s health to suffer.
Cayne went further: “This breach of contract financially devastated him, emotionally destroyed him, and I have no doubt it ultimately led to his early and tragic death.” Thrall’s widow was awarded $6.2 million.