Old Court Savings and Loan, the Baltimore thrift association that prompted a crisis in the Maryland savings and loan industry, has debts that exceed its assets by at least $175 million, according to the first official examination of its books performed for its court-appointed conservator.

The state government will end up paying off most of that debt, said Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, who received the accounting of Old Court loans from officers of Chevy Chase Savings and Loan, which is managing Old Court for the conservator.

The final figure for Old Court could go as high as $200 million, Kaplan said. That figure is roughly equal to the amount the state set aside to cover debts of all the state's troubled thrifts after Gov. Harry Hughes promised depositors that the state would guarantee their deposits up to $100,000 per account.

Norm Silverstein, an assistant press secretary to Hughes and spokesman for the state thrift insurance fund, said the state has enough money to "pay off some, if not all, of the losses at Old Court."

Silverstein called the insurance "the fund of first resort, to be used before we go to any state money -- taxpayer money."

Several state officials, however, said they worry that while insurance may cover most Old Court losses, it cannot be stretched to cover severe losses that any other large thrifts may have incurred.

Kaplan extended for 90 more days yesterday his freeze on Old Court deposits, but he told attorneys for the Old Court conservator, the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, that the state should devise a plan that would allow depositors to withdraw at least some of their money.

Silverstein said such a thaw on Old Court deposits was "not unreasonable," particularly for hardship cases, and he added that the state agency will probably prepare a plan soon to allow limited disbursements.

Kaplan said he will withhold payment of all legal fees in the Old Court conservatorship -- which are running at more than $300,000 a month -- until the state allows Old Court customers to recover some of their deposits.

Kaplan's comments and the accounting of Old Court holdings performed by Chevy Chase Savings and Loan offer the clearest picture to date of the potential loss Maryland could incur as it tries to cope with the four-month-old thrift crisis.

Kaplan described the $175 million debt as "the minimum loss the state will have to cover" for that institution.

"No matter how good a job the conservator does, the lawyers do, the accountants do, the state will still have to come up at least $175 million short -- and that's a staggering amount," the judge said in an interview after a long hearing in his Baltimore courtroom.

Officers of Chevy Chase Savings and Loan told Kaplan yesterday that the $175 million figure, an estimate of Old Court's debt picture, was based on a review of about half of Old Court's loans.

The examination estimated Old Court's assets at $574 million and its liabilities at $748 million.

Silverstein said most of the money needed to pay off any Old Court losses would come from a $210 million insurance pool that MDIF acquired when it replaced the old system of private deposit insurance this year.

However, that $210 million figure is somewhat inflated, state officials say. Already, $20 million of it has been set aside in an escrow account because of a lawsuit filed against the state by another Baltimore thrift association. Of the remaining $190 million, only about $65 million could be readily converted to cash, Silverstein said. The rest, loaned out and backed safely by collateral, could be recovered over time, officials said.

When reports of mismanagement at Old Court triggered a run by depositors there and at other thrifts in May, the state reacted by restricting withdrawals at all 102 savings and loans in Maryland. The crisis eased somewhat as some thrifts obtained federal deposit insurance, but there are withdrawal bans at Old Court, Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan of Baltimore and two large Montgomery County thrifts -- Community Savings and Loan of Bethesda and First Maryland Savings and Loan of Silver Spring.

Merritt has been targeted for acquisition by Chase Manhattan Corp., but sources said the New York financial giant wants the state to put up roughly $30 million as part of the deal.