Michael Bradfield, an international lawyer who helped bring the U.S. dollar off the gold standard, curtailed the lending practices of big banks following the 2008 financial crisis, and restored to their descendants the Swiss bank accounts of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, died July 26 at a hospital in New York City. He was 83.
The cause was acute leukemia, said a son, Andrew Bradfield.
Bradfield held several high posts in federal agencies — including general counsel to the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — and he was a partner in private law firms, including Jones Day as well as Cole, Corette & Bradfield. He was widely known in the upper echelons of law and finance, but he did most of his work out of the public spotlight.
In government service and the private sector, Bradfield was an official and unofficial protege of Paul Volcker, a top U.S. economist who was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1979 to 1987.
In 1982 and 1983, Volcker said, Bradfield helped avert a Latin American debt crisis, mainly through talks and diplomacy with bankers. He persuaded Latin American banks to be more stringent in their lending practices. In turn he persuaded the creditor banks of those overextended banks to be more forgiving of payback on outstanding loans.
In 1996, when Volcker became head of the committee to investigate dormant Swiss bank accounts of Jews who died in the Holocaust, Bradfield — then a senior partner at Jones Day — joined him. “He was Volcker’s right-hand man,” said U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, who presided over a lawsuit involving the dormant accounts. “The Swiss had destroyed many of the records,” he said. Bradfield “was persistent in locating the accounts.”
In 1998, the lawsuit was settled for $1.25 billion. That sum included compensation for looted property and slave labor during World War II.
As general counsel to the FDIC in 2009 and 2010, Bradfield was “critical in overseeing work on regulatory matters” in the period of financial jitters following the near collapse of the financial system, said FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg. He was also critical in supporting the Dodd-Frank legislation’s “Volcker Rule,” which prohibited bank holding companies from engaging in risky trading. President Barack Obama signed the legislation in 2010 in response to the financial crisis of two years earlier.
Michael Bradfield was born in New York City on July 24, 1934, and graduated in 1956 from Union College in Schenectady, New York. He received a law degree and a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, both in 1960.
He joined the Treasury Department in 1962 and in 1968 became assistant general counsel for international affairs. He was serving in that capacity in the summer of 1971 when he got a call from the Secret Service. President Richard Nixon and top financial advisers wanted him at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. A car would be by momentarily to pick him up at home.
From that meeting — over the weekend of Aug. 13 to 15, 1971 — came a series of economic measures, including the cancellation of the convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold. Bradfield’s responsibility was to work out the legal details of this policy, which also included a freeze on wages and prices, and a 10 percent surcharge on imports, to curb inflation and prevent a run on the dollar.
Since 2013, Bradfield had been general counsel and a board member of the Volcker Alliance, a nonprofit organization supporting an improvement in government effectiveness.
In 1961, he married Inai Yuh. Besides his wife, of Bethesda, Maryland, survivors include two sons, Andrew Bradfield and Anthony Bradfield, both of New York City; and four grandchildren.
Besides his home in Bethesda, he also had a residence in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where he was a small-time cattle farmer.
He had been a senior partner at Jones Day for 20 years before leaving in 2009 to serve as FDIC general counsel. His Jones Day years had overlapped with his work on the search for Swiss bank accounts of Holocaust victims.
Not surprisingly, the Swiss bankers did not extend him a warm welcome.
Back at Jones Day, his partners presented him with a commemorative T-shirt that read “Wanted in Switzerland!”