A judge refused today to dismiss the $200 million civil suit filed against former Old Court Savings and Loan president Jeffrey Levitt and other former officers of the troubled thrift.
Attorneys for Levitt and the other defendants, who are accused in the suit of fraudulently diverting funds from Old Court, argued that the thrift's state-appointed conservator does not have the legal standing to sue them.
Defense attorneys also argued that the civil suit is premature and should not be tried before the current state and federal criminal investigations of Old Court are complete.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan rejected those claims. He also refused to disqualify himself from the case, rejecting arguments by Levitt's attorneys that he could not be impartial because he has conflicts of interest involving Levitt and other potential witnesses and defendants.
The civil suit by Old Court's conservator, the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund -- a state agency created in the wake of a private insurance firm's failure to cover a run on savings and loan deposits last May -- seeks $200 million in punitive damages. It accuses Levitt and 25 other defendants of treating "depositors' funds as their own private slush fund" in the "largest financial fraud in the history of the state of Maryland."
Levitt attorney Paul Mark Sandler had argued that Judge Kaplan should step down because he testified before the state Court of Appeals that Levitt lied to him in court in 1979. The Court of Appeals subsequently suspended Levitt from the Maryland bar for one year.
Kaplan said today his role in Levitt's suspension from the bar was minor and would not prevent him from hearing the civil suit against him.
Sandler also argued that Kaplan should step down because lawyers from the Baltimore firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard, where Kaplan was formerly a partner, were involved with Old Court. The firm advised Old Court in real estate transactions and was legal counsel to the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp., the private firm that formerly insured Old Court and other state thrifts.
Another lawsuit against Old Court, filed on behalf of depositors, lists the law firm as a defendant, alleging that the firm had a conflict of interest in representing by Old Court and MSSIC.
Kaplan said he had no conflict of interest, having left the firm eight years ago.
Kaplan also ordered Levitt's attorney to provide written answers to MDIF lawyers investigating Levitt's personal and corporate finances, and to turn over financial documents they are seeking.