An attorney for former budget director Bert Lance has filed suit against the Securities and Exchange Commission in an attempt to force the agency to release documents gathered in an investigation of Lance's banking activities.
The suit, filed Wednesday by Atlanta attorney Nickolas P, Chilivas in U.S. District Court there, follows an unsuccessful attempt on Lance's behalf to get the same records under the Freedom of Information Act.
The suit names SEC Chairman Harold Williams, four commissioners and three attorneys, all of whom took part in the denial of Chilivas' FOIA request.
Last October, after a nine-month investigation, the SEC filed a civil suit against Lance and two banks he had managed, National Bank of Georgia and Calhoun (Ga.) First National Bank.
According to the freedom-of-information suit, Chilivas on Nov. 14 filed a request with the SEC for all depositions, statements, documents and memoranda gathered by the agency in preparing its suit.
The SEC suit accused Lance and the banks of committing "fraud" and "deceit" against the banks' shareholders. All three defendants settled the suit by consent decree, neither admitting nor denying the allegations.
The SEC denied Chilivas' FOIA request on Dec. 6. The commission's FOIA officer at the time, Roderick Woodson, wrote a letter to Chilivas saying the request for records was denied "since they consist of the investigatory record compiled for law enforcement purposes, the disclosure of which would interfere with enforcement proceedings."
A federal grand jury in Atlanta investigating Lance's banking affairs reportedly is expected to indict Lance and othrs next month. Chilivas, a criminal lawyer retained by Lance, apparently wants the SEC documents to prepare a defense for his client against the expected criminal allegations.
Chilivas, in his suit, says an administrative appeal to the SEC was also denied on Jan. 19. The SEC cited the continuing interest in Lance's affairs by the SEC and the Justice Department as the reason for denying the appeal.
Documents filed along with the Chilivas suit request the SEC to answer questions about any role its staff may have in the grand jury investigation.