As the Maryland savings and loan crisis heads into its second year, a critical legal test of the state's control of industry reserve funds has produced a striking case of role reversals.

The crisis exploded last May when depositors began a run on some privately insured Maryland S&Ls after disclosures that Baltimore's Old Court Savings and Loan was having problems. As the situation threatened to grow worse, some S&Ls couldn't handle withdrawal demands. The state subsequently dissolved the old Maryland Savings Share Insurance Corp. and turned over control of the private insurance fund to a new state agency called the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund. At the same time, the state imposed withdrawal limits at all former MSSIC-insured S&Ls.

The restriction on withdrawals eventually was relaxed for depositors at most MDIF-insured S&Ls, but thousands of depositors still are unable to gain full access to millions of dollars in deposits as the crisis continues.

Now, 51 weeks into the crisis, some Maryland S&Ls -- most notable among them, Chevy Chase Savings and Loan Association -- find themselves in a position very similar to that of depositors who have been demanding what is legitimately theirs. Like Chevy Chase, at least three other S&Ls are demanding that the MDIF return money the thrifts had placed in a reserve fund established by MSSIC. And the MDIF finds itself in a position similar to that in which some S&Ls were placed almost a year ago when worried depositors lined up demanding the return of their money.

The essense of MDIF's response in this ironic twist of events is that the money isn't available.

"We've set up a schedule for paying the S&Ls off," says a spokesman for the MDIF. "The plan, as of now, is to return the money they have in the central reserve fund by Dec. 31."

That apparently isn't good enough for Chevy Chase and other S&Ls that have filed lawsuits to regain funds they had placed in MSSIC's central reserve fund.

MSSIC regulations required member organizations to keep money in the defunct agency's central reserve pool, which members could tap if they were in need of funds, and in a central insurance fund to cover deposits on hand at S&Ls.

Chevy Chase, which had $43 million in the central reserve fund and $39 million in the insurance fund, has asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to force the state to return the money now controlled by the MDIF. But the MDIF continues to use money in those funds to facilitate the takeover of financially troubled S&Ls by out-of-state banks. Maryland used $25 million in MDIF funds to help Chase Manhattan Corp. acquire three S&Ls last fall and plans to turn over at least $131 million to Pittsburgh's Mellon Bank sometime this month to buy Community Savings and Loan of Bethesda.

Most of the money that would be paid to Mellon would come from MDIF funds but, according to an MDIF spokesman, only $90 million remains in the central reserve fund and about $175 million is in the insurance fund. Only about half of the total in the insurance fund can be classified as liquid, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Chevy Chase, which became a federally insured S&L shortly after the crisis began last May, maintains that its money in the central reserve fund should have been returned by MSSIC before the crisis began. According to MSSIC regulations in effect at the time, an S&L was entitled to recover its money in the reserve fund six months after filing notice that it was withdrawing from MSSIC. Chevy Chase applied for federal deposit insurance in August 1984 and notified MSSIC of its plans to withdraw membership two months later.

MDIF, however, is staking its position to a ruling by Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan. "Judge Kaplan's position is that Chevy Chase was still officially a member of MSSIC when the crisis began," the MDIF spokesman noted, adding that Chevy Chase didn't receive FDIC approval until May 23, 1985 -- two weeks after the crisis had begun and nearly 10 days after a $1,000 withdrawal limit had been imposed at all privately insured S&Ls.

This latest flap in Maryland's tortuous attempt to resolve the S&L crisis underscores once more that the state was ill-prepared to go into the deposit insurance business.

Still, there is no clear-cut case -- in this matter, at least -- of state officials being the guys in the black hats. Nor does it appear that Chevy Chase and others that have filed suits to recover money from the MDIF are wearing white hats.

Chevy Chase and other S&Ls (43 have received federal deposit insurance since the crisis began) are entitled to their money in the reserve fund. The MDIF has given assurances that they will get it. In the meantime, the integrity of the insurance fund must be maintained to fulfill Maryland's obligation to depositors, even though the state's overall plan to resolve the crisis may be flawed.