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Evans Bancorp, state Attorney General’s Office expect settlement agreement in redlining lawsuit

Evans Bancorp and the state Attorney General’s Office expect to reach a settlement agreement soon, the two parties said in a recent court filing.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the Hamburg-based parent company of Evans Bank in U.S. District Court just over a year ago, accusing Evans of redlining certain Buffalo neighborhoods. The bank has fought back against the allegations.

In a court filing Aug. 26, the two sides asked U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. for additional time to complete fact depositions in the case. Schroeder approved their request to extend the deadline to Tuesday.

“The parties are working toward achieving a final, all-encompassing agreement,” attorneys for the two sides said in the joint filing. “Although the parties have not reached a meeting of the minds on all material terms of a prospective settlement agreement, the parties believe they are close to a final resolution.”

The two sides said they would use the additional time to finalize an agreement. “In the unlikely event a final settlement agreement cannot be reached within the next 20 days, a second and final extension would allow the parties to complete fact depositions by Sept. 15,” the attorneys said in making their request Aug. 26.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed the suit in September 2014, accusing the bank of denying access to mortgage loans to predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the city because of their racial composition. Redlining refers to companies deliberately avoiding certain geographic areas while doing business in areas around them.

The two sides were unable to reach an agreement before the Attorney General’s Office decided to file suit. At the court’s direction, the two sides met with a mediator last January.

Evans set aside $1 million in reserve to cover expenses or possibly even a fine. The bank has accused the Attorney General’s Office of misrepresenting its lending practices and making Evans a “target of opportunity.”

Dennis C. Vacco, a partner with Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman and a former attorney general, who represents Evans, said: “We’ve had a continuing dialogue for most of the summer around the possibility of resolving this matter.”

As the Tuesday deadline approaches, Vacco said, there is nothing precluding the two sides from filing another joint request for additional time, if necessary.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on a possible settlement.