On March 30, 1915, the Comptroller notified the bank that for failure to make and transmit the special reports called for within the time prescribed, or within five days thereafter, an assessment of one hundred dollars a day was imposed for each day from February 8 to March 30, 1915, amounting to five thousand dollars, which the bank was directed to pay. At the same time the Treasurer of the United States was instructed to withhold any interest due or to become due on the bonds belonging to the bank on deposit as security for circulation.
In a letter addressed to the Treasurer of the United States, dated April 1, 1915, the bank denied the legal right or authority of the Comptroller to assess the penalty imposed and demanded payment to the bank of the interest due on bonds deposited as of April 1, 1915. But if the Treasurer, under the circumstances, did not feel that he could comply with this demand, he was requested to hold the matter in abeyance until the bank had an opportunity to be heard or to take such legal action as was necessary to protect its rights.
On April 12, 1915, the bank filed a bill of complaint in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia asking for protection from persecution and oppression by officials of the Treasury Department, and on this petition the Court granted a temporary order restraining the Secretary of the Treasury, the Comptroller of the Currency and the Treasurer of the United States from paying into the United States Treasury the whole or any part of the retained interest money due or to become due and payable April 1 and assessed as a penalty against the bank.
This order also restrained the Comptroller from revoking the bank's designation as a depository of other national banks or from refusing to approve applications for such designations.
The court also issued a rule directing the officials mentioned to show cause on or before the sixteenth day of April following why they should not be permanently enjoined from interfering with the bank in any manner whatever.
In the bill of complaint filed by the bank it was averred that at the time the nomination of Mr. Williams was under consideration by the Senate Committee Mr. Williams was interrogated as to whether if appointed Comptroller of the Currency he would discharge the duties of his office fairly and impartially notwithstanding his apparent hostility toward certain officers of the Riggs bank, and that it was only after an affirmative answer to such interrogatories that the Committee consented to report favorably upon his nomination.
The bank further averred that Mr. Williams caused the withdrawal of $1,158,479.51 of Panama funds from the bank and that he and the Secretary of the Treasury conspired to take away and did effect the withdrawal of nearly $2,500,000 at a time when the banks in the United States were making strenuous efforts to husband their resources, and at a time when the Riggs National Bank could not dispose of the bonds it had pledged as security for this money because of the European war.
The complaint charged further that Mr. Williams had maliciously used his high office as a cover to impertinently, arrogantly and insolently pry into matters with which he had no official concern whatever, for the purpose and with the intent to injure the bank and wreak his vengeance on certain of its officers against whom he entertained a personal hatred.
To supply the information called for as to loans to officers and their families and the interest paid on such loans, which the Comptroller required to be furnished within one week, the petition averred, would require an examination of the bank's records covering a period of eighteen years, and would cause such a serious loss of time and interference with its current business that the officers felt justified in refusing to comply with this demand upon the ground that it was unreasonable.
It was further averred that under date of March 19, 1915, Mr. Williams wrote the bank a long, rambling, insulting and argumentative letter concerning certain loans made during the previous five years, and demanded a report in response within one week. The language of this letter, it was stated, was intemperate, arrogant, insolent and libelous in the extreme and indicated a mind utterly blind to the duties and dignities of the office of Comptroller of the Currency, and a recklessness and impatience of all legal restraints, arising either from uncontrollable hatred, temper or from a graver cause.
Five days were consumed by counsel in argument, during which personalities were freely indulged in. The court then announced that the motion made by the Government to dismiss the case would be taken under advisement, at the same time denying the prayer of the bank for continuance of the injunction pending litigation.
Without considering, the court said, what evidence might hereafter be presented, there was nothing in the record as made up which showed that the officials of the Government had exercised arbitrary powers in refusing to approve the Riggs National Bank as a reserve agent for other national banks.
The court expressed the opinion that the officials of the Government would have been remiss in their duty had they done otherwise, as the evidence presented showed persistent violations of law on the part of the Riggs bank, which began before Mr. Williams came into office and continued for some time thereafter.
The court was correct in the opinion thus expressed, both as to the duty of the officials and as to the disregard of the law by the bank. But if this policy had been impartially and rigorously applied to all national banks shown by examiners' reports to have persistently violated the law "before Mr. Williams came into office and for some time thereafter," as in the case of the Riggs National Bank, there would have been very few banks approved as reserve agents for other banks, or continued as reserve agents after approval, as a large number of such banks were as persistent violators of the law as the Riggs National Bank, if not more so.