Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan today extended to customers of First Maryland Savings and Loan of Silver Spring the state government's plan allowing depositors in financially troubled thrifts to withdraw some money that was previously frozen.
The order clears the way for First Maryland's 34,000 depositors to seek exemptions to a state-imposed ban on withdrawals that has been in effect at the thrift since late August. The hardship plan is already in place for customers of two other crippled savings and loans: Old Court, based in Baltimore, and Community, based in Bethesda.
But Kaplan, who is overseeing the conservatorships of First Maryland and Community and the receivership of Old Court, refused to grant a request by a depositors' group that its legal expenses be paid from the assets of Old Court.
The depositors' group, the Maryland Savings and Loan Depositors Committee, was formed in late September to press Gov. Harry Hughes, other state officials and the court for a speedy distribution of $1.2 billion in deposits still frozen at the three thrifts. Representatives of the group, including their recently hired counsel, frequently appear at the court proceedings dealing with the thrift crisis.
Kaplan, who has already approved the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to attorneys and agents representing the state receiver of Old Court, said today that "it would be unfair" to tax the majority of Old Court depositors for the legal expenses incurred by the 1,200 members of the committee, about half of whom have accounts at Old Court.
Noting that only about 1.4 percent of Old Court's 50,000 depositors belong to the committee, Kaplan said the payment of legal fees "is not justified."
But Kaplan did give the group formal legal standing to intervene in the court-supervised receivership of Old Court, even though the request was opposed by the thrift's receiver, a state agency known as the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund.
John McHale, a systems analyst from Columbia who is a leader of the depositors committee, said the judge's refusal to have Old Court pay for the group's legal fees would "restrict what we can intervene on. We had a list of six or seven things we wanted to do and now we won't be able to do a majority of them."
If the state's recent experience with Old Court and Community depositors is repeated with First Maryland, extension of the hardship plan to the Silver Spring thrift will have a marginal impact.
Under restrictive criteria developed by the state that allows hardship withdrawals for such items as tuition and real estate closings and necessities of life, 1,600 of 78,000 account-holders at the two thrifts have submitted hardship applications. The state has approved 1,130 of those requests and released a total of $3.6 million in deposits.
In a related development today, the state Board of Public Works agreed to pledge $5.1 million in bond anticipation notes to Sharon Savings and Loan that will assure the Baltimore thrift of quick approval for federal deposit insurance.
The pledge of state funds will help Sharon and its wholly owned subsidiary, Security Savings and Loan, to meet a key capital requirement of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation.
Federal insurance approval for Sharon and Security leaves only two Maryland thrifts with more than $40 million in assets without federal insurance.
One of the two, Gibralter Building and Loan, received conditional approval for federal insurance on Tuesday. The other, Admiral Builders Savings and Loan, has agreed to a merger with a large New Jersey thrift that if accepted by federal regulators will mean its deposits are federally insured.
Under emergency legislation enacted during the early days of Maryland's thrift crisis in May, the General Assembly required all state-chartered and insured savings and loans with more than $40 million in assets to get federal deposit insurance by the end of this year.