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ti .. sk “”6″4:.., . . . LOUIS DUBOSE Melvin Robinson in the courthouse records National Bank of Cleburne would become. And no one anticipated that a fight between a working-class Christian family and a small-town bank would ultimately involve the State Bar Association; the federal office of the comptroller; the FBI; the Attorney General’s office; HALT, a Washington-based plaintiffs’ advocacy group; the fifth circuit court of appeals in New Orleans; Hughes & Luce, one of the heavyweights from the world of Texas lawyers; a Baylor University law professor, and a half dozen other lawyers who either worked on or considered working on the case. The number of lawyers involved with the case, however, is deceptive. Because for most of the almost four years that the case was in litigation, the Robinsons represented themselves. They were left with no other option, Melvin Robinson said, because the lawyers representing them, citing conflicts with the plaintiffs, withdrew from the case. “We begged the Judge [magistrate Joe Tolles] not to let them withdraw,” Robinson said of the Dallas attorneys repreSenting him. But Tolles, who was sitting in for Judge Joe Fish, and who the Robinsons contend had the option of ordering the attorneys to remain on the case, allowed them to depart. WHAT IS UNIQUE about the Robinsons’ fight is not that they fought it, but how they fought it. Somehow, Melvin Robinson came to understand Bacon’s axiom that knowledge is power. And by those terms, Robinson determined to make himself a powerful man; and he set out to acquire that power in the Johnson County Courthouse, a three-story Greek revival structure whose most notable feature is a tall, hollow tower covered by a small,. rounded dome. It is by this tower a phallic shaft of authority that the courthouse is visible from almost every quarter of the city of Cleburne. For Melvin Robinson, the power that the courthouse represents does not all derive from the two state district courts and the commissioners court. “The deed records here,” Robinson said in an interview at the county clerk’s office, “will tell you the story of all these local banks, every land transaction, every loan, in the county.” “Let me give you an example,” Robinson said. “Since I know the name, we’ll start in the direct index.” He began with the name of a former First National Bank director and within minutes was listing dozens of residential land transactions that had occurred within one year. From the index, Robinson proceeded to the microfiche copies listed by volume and page in the index. Each transaction, he said, is represented by several legal documents, including a deed of trust that provides the name of a buyer, the name of the lending institution, the amount of the loan; and a legal description of the property. “You also got to check the DBA book to make sure that you don’t miss anything,” Robinson said. The “DBA Book,” he explained, lists company names by which individuals conduct their business \(“doing connected to individuals, Robinson returned to the index to search for transactions completed in the names of certain businesses. From the county clerk’s office, Robinson, a linebacker-sized man, scrambled up the iron stairs to the district clerk’s office, where he pulled a large civil docket ledger book from a shelf. If a lawsuit involves foreclosure, Robinson said, it is worth the effort to follow the paper trail to determine who benefited from the bank’s , action. In this way, deed by deed and transaction by transaction, Melvin Robinson conducted his own personal investigation of the directors of the bank that he claimed had unlawfully taken his homestead. “I’ve got the goods on these guys,” Robinson insisted. And all of it, he added, came from public information available to anyone who has the time to learn the system by which deeds are filed and indexed. \(Robinson even claimed that he discovered that one local businessman had zziortgaged several business properties simultaneously in different counties and with different banks. The result, according to Robinson, who pointed out the transactions during the course of an interview, is that two banks probagly unknowingly had first liens on the same And Robinson, it seems, left no page unturned. During months of meticulous research he followed the paper trails of the officers and members of the First National Bank Board of Directors through hundreds of transactions. What he discovered, according to allegations in the RICO lawsuit \(Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Orbank had engaged in certain unusual lending patterns: “I sat down and added up how much money they loaned their board members,” Robinson said. “Then I figured out that they were overlining credit to them [the board members].” The amount of money that banks can legally lend their own directors is controlled by strict arithmetical formulas, and according to the Robinsons’ allegations, First National Bank had extended more credit than allowed to board members. Robinson incorporated the allegations about lending in the RICO case that he filed in Dallas. \(RICO litigation allows plaintiffs to file against parties who meet certain THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7