A federal judge has given the management of Baltimore Bancorp something to cheer about, at least temporarily.
Judge J. Frederick Motz, in a telephone conference call last night with parties in dispute over who will sit on the company's board of directors, decided not to order Baltimore Bancorp to immediately convene a board meeting.
Hearings are to begin next Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on lawsuits filed by the company and by a group of 16 dissident shareholders led by Edwin F. Hale Sr. Both sides have charged misconduct in the battle over control of the bank-holding company.
Motz, who is attending a conference in California, conveyed his decision to attorneys for Baltimore Bancorp and the dissident group. Motz could not be reached for comment.
Both sides agreed that no board meeting would be held until after Motz rules on the matters currently before him.
Attorneys for Baltimore Bancorp -- parent corporation of the Bank of Baltimore, the state's fifth largest bank -- said Motz has assured them that those rulings will occur on or before June 25. That would allow parties to meet a July 8 deadline for any appeals before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Wilmington, N.C.
Hale and six dissidents seeking seats on the board had demanded that a directors meeting be held today at the con
clusion of the company's annual meeting. He also asked that the board be briefed on all of the company's major business dealings, including problem loans and transactions exceeding $100,000.
Hale, owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, and the other five shareholders won a recent election to the board of directors. But that vote and a vote that would have expanded the 18-member board to include 10 other dissidents is being contested in court by Baltimore Bancorp's management.
Hale did not attend a shareholders' meeting today, where the vote was reported on a proposal to establish an advisory board that would be a liaison between shareholders and management. That proposal, which was introduced by a Hale supporter, was approved.
A confident Harry L. Robinson, chairman and chief executive officer of Baltimore Bancorp, said today that Hale's requests for an early board meeting showed how worried Hale has become.
"What we're beginning to see is panic setting in," said Robinson, adding that he understands Hale has spent up to $750,000 in his efforts to wrestle control from the company's current leadership.
Hale today declined to say what he has spent on the effort, but he called Robinson's assertions about panicking "nonsense."
"If anybody is going to be panicking, it's going to be them," Hale said. "They have not won on any issue at all. Their feeling is that I'm going to blink and go away, and I'm not."
Hale said that Motz gave his group the option of being heard Tuesday on whether there should be a early board meeting convened, but that the group declined.
Robinson said he believes Hale will fail in his bid to gain a majority on the board. However, he stopped short of saying whether the judge will allow the six dissidents to be seated.
Benjamin Stapleton 3rd, an attorney for management, said, "Obviously, they are in much better shape on the six than they are on the expansion of the board."
Baltimore Bancorp officials, however, have charged that the Hale forces made false and misleading statements to shareholders during the election campaign, and have asked for a new vote.