Atlanta — In all fairness to Bert Lance, the record shows that when he finally had his day in federal court here, in 1980, he was found innocent of all charges of illegal banking activity.
Yet the old charges against the one-time White House appointee and close friend of Jimmy Carter still haunt him as he steps into his new position as general chairman of Walter Mondale's campaign.
And if Mr. Mondale hoped to gain new Southern voter support by his appointment of Lance, a Georgian, he may be disappointed.
''I can't imagine many wavering Southern Democrats will say, 'I feel better about Mondale' '' because of the Lance appointment, says Earl Black, a professor of government at the University of South Carolina and respected political analyst.
He calls the Lance choice ''incredibly inept,'' one that makes it harder for the Democrats to point to alleged misconduct of Reagan appointees.
In spite of Lance being ''technically cleared'' in federal court, many people still see him as ''someone who made a good thing out of small-town banking - maybe too much,'' says Mr. Black.
Mr. Lance began his banking years in Calhoun, Ga., a small town in the northern part of the state. He later became president of the bank and gained a reputation locally, his attorneys later said in court, as a man whose trust in people was reflected in his loan-approval policies. He did not always make ''prudent investigations'' of loan applicants, one of his attorneys admitted.
Despite the allegations against Lance, President Carter named him to run the Office of Management and Budget. But the turmoil resulting from the investigations into his banking led to his resignation less than a year later.
In court, federal prosecutors charged Lance with having a ''pattern'' of illegal use of funds at banks he was associated with, making ''insider'' loans, and lying about his net worth in applying for loans. But a federal judge threw out most of the counts. And on the remaining charges, prosecutors could not convince jurors Lance intended to defraud anyone.
Lance, who returned to banking after leaving the Carter administration, became chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party in 1982. Although a Mondale supporter from the first, he has tried to play a unifying role among the candidates.