LOS ANGELES, OCT. 18 -- A federal judge lowered Charles H. Keating Jr.'s bail today from $5 million to $300,000, allowing the former savings and loan chief to walk out of jail after a month behind bars.

Relatives whisked away a smiling Keating after his release.

U.S. District Judge John G. Davies reduced Keating's bail, saying Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner arbitrarily set it as much as 50 times higher than that of his codefendants, who already had made bail.

"I can see no rational reason whatsoever ... for this disparate treatment among defendants," Davies said.

Keating, 66, an Arizona developer, was jailed on charges of fraudulently selling junk bonds issued by his American Continental Corp., which owned the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.

A federal rescue of Lincoln Savings is expected to cost taxpayers $2 billion, which would make it the nation's costliest thrift cleanup.

The bail decision came as the Senate Ethics Committee investigated whether five senators who received campaign contributions from Keating improperly intervened with banking regulators on Keating's behalf.

Keating's family posted the reduced bail.

One of Keating's attorneys, Jeffrey Powell, said Keating would return to his home in an exclusive Phoenix suburb and begin preparing his defense.

"I'm extremely pleased," Powell said. "But I think it's unfortunate it took us 33 days to get to this point."

Deputy District Attorney Paul Turley said prosecutors would not appeal Davies's bail ruling but contended Klausner ruled carefully in considering bail. "I believe Judge Klausner viewed all the evidence in front of him and that evidence supported the bail amount without any arbitrariness," Turley said.

When Klausner initially set Keating's bail at $5 million, Klausner described it as 2 percent of the alleged $250 million in losses to people who invested in worthless bonds through Irvine-based Lincoln Savings.

Davies called that proof of arbitrary bail and said the Constitution allowed bail to be set only high enough to ensure a defendant would appear to answer charges.

The 42-count state grand jury indictment accused Keating and three of his former officials of misleading investors about the security of American Continental junk bonds sold at Lincoln branches.

In federal court, Keating appealed the bail on constitutional grounds.

"The bottom line is there was a violation of Mr. Keating's 8th Amendment rights" against excessive bail, Davies said.

Keating was not in court, although several family members were.