Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan today halted withdrawals and restricted interest payments on accounts at Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan Association of Baltimore for the next 15 days.

Kaplan's order, which applies only to deposits made before May 14, comes five days after he slapped similar restrictions for a three-month period on another troubled thrift, Old Court Savings and Loan Association of Baltimore.

In both cases, interest on passbook accounts and certificates of deposit that have matured will be limited to 5.5 percent.

Merritt and Old Court were placed under state conservatorship last month after reports of management changes and allegations of possible criminal actions at Old Court prompted heavy runs on deposits. Under the terms of those conservatorships, which Merritt agreed to voluntarily, withdrawals had been limited to $1,000 on each account for every 30 days, before Kaplan's orders.

Assistant Attorney General Francis X. Pugh said Kaplan's order today was imposed because of concerns that Merritt would not be able to meet loan commitments if a large number of $1,000 withdrawals were made Thursday, the first day of the next 30-day period in which depositors again would have been permitted to withdraw $1,000 per account.

"This is kind of an interim thing until we can get a better handle on the situation," said Pugh. "It's hard to attract deposits and the commitments are still there. With no money coming in, there's a cash problem."

Pugh said that if a large number of Merritt depositors began withdrawing their $1,000 monthly limit on Thursday, the thrift would encounter difficulty meeting its financial commitments. "Rather than get to a bad point, the thought was to give us a little breathing room to see where we're at."

Pugh said he was uncertain what would happen to Merritt after the 15-day ban on withdrawals expires.

In addition to freezing withdrawals and limiting interest on Old Court accounts for three months, Kaplan last week handed over day-to-day management of the association to a team of executives from Chevy Chase Savings and Loan Association, the state's largest thrift.

Maryland officials have required state-chartered thrifts with assets of more than $40 million to obtain insurance from the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.

Neither Merritt or Old Court is likely to qualify for FSLIC protection, and the state could face substantial financial liability if they cannot be sold or merged with another bank or savings and loan and must eventually be liquidated.