Butte Jury Holds Bankers Accountable With $52 Million Verdict

By Sheena Rice
Montana Organizing Project

It’s no longer shocking to read news articles about the scandalous behavior of big banks. Readers roll their eyes when they see JPMorgan’s CEO being awarded a total pay of $20 million the same year the bank made repeated headlines for being fined millions of dollars and incurring losses of billions of dollars. Stories like these are so common it’s almost boring.MOP Logo JPEG

But a jury in Butte, Mont. – population 34,000 – recently decided they weren’t going to tolerate a second set of rules just for banks. They delivered a $52 million verdict against Comerica, another national bank that was also bailed out by the government, and then refused to help a borrower.

The borrower, an office supply company, was essentially destroyed when Comerica reneged on a written forbearance agreement. The company decided to fight, and filed the lawsuit.
The lawyer for the office supply company argued persuasively “there are two Americas. Comerica – a company in America where the rules don’t apply – and then there’s America, where the rest of us live and the rules do apply.” Turns out the Butte jury agreed with him and awarded what may be the highest verdict against a bank in Montana’s history.

Montana Organizing Project is thrilled with this verdict, and is encouraged that it matches an increasing sentiment that we are seeing in this state when it comes to banking – an end to “Too Big to Fail.” Yet we are concerned that nearly $1 billion of public funds are still being invested in Wall Street.

We know that supporting Montana’s community banking sector, rather than Wall Street, does more to strengthen local small businesses and family farms. As 2014 begins, we are committed to having conversations about what more can be done to keep Montana money invested locally, rather than in Wall Street, so small businesses are able to drive our economy, rather than be boarded up.

Montana Organizing Project is kicking off conversations with banks, businesses, and community leaders starting Tuesday, Jan. 28in Billings. Montanans are committed to ensuring that our strong local banking sector stays that way.

There are three things we can do to keep the state’s financial sector strong:

  • Move our municipal deposits and debt over to locally chartered institutions to ensure that those handling our public funds are rooted in the community they serve. The community where they can see the direct benefits of a strong Main Street.
  • Create the Montana Partnership bank to keep more of Montana’s money in Montana and allow the Board of Investment to partner with local financial institutions.
  • Pass a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to restore the separation between risky investment banking and traditional consumer banking.

Sheena Rice is the economic justice organizer for Montana Organizing Project, an affiliate of Alliance for a Just Society. For more information, contact her at sheena@montanaorganizingproject.org