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Top 5: ‘It’s a massive undertaking’

A battle over homeowner’s insurance and funding for the public defender’s office top the list of most-read legal affairs stories of the week. Also on the list are two more Court of Appeals decisions and news of a so-called “patent troll” coming to federal court in Baltimore. The Top 5 stories are:

1. AG loses fight against Allstate — by Steve Lash

Maryland’s top court Wednesday upheld Allstate Insurance Co.’s decision to stop offering new homeowners’ policies in Southern Maryland, the Lower Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County due to the company’s potential for catastrophic financial losses if a hurricane hits that region.

In its 6-1 decision, the Court of Appeals said Allstate reasonably decided in 2006 not to issue new policies after concluding that a Category 4 hurricane — involving winds over 130 mph — would cause more than $237 million in property damage were it to make landfall in Worcester County.

2. Budget boost won’t cover lawyers at bail — by Steve Lash

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed $1.1 million boost to the public defender’s budget next fiscal year is welcome, but falls short of the money the agency will need to comply with the decision that it must represent indigent defendants at initial bail hearings, said Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe.

“It’s a massive undertaking that we’re trying to comply with,” DeWolfe said of the Court of Appeals’ Jan. 4 ruling in DeWolfe v. Richmond. The court’s mandate, or order requiring immediate compliance, is scheduled to be issued Feb. 2, he added.

3. Court of Appeals: Foreclosure trustee can’t add fee — by Steve Lash

Trustees handling a foreclosure sale cannot require a winning bidder to pay their attorneys’ fees for reviewing documents when the deed changes hands, the state’s highest court held Tuesday.

The Court of Appeals overturned the ratification of a foreclosure sale because the notice of sale included a $295 fee that, according to homeowner Bonnie Maddox, had become common practice by “one or more law firms that specialize in foreclosure practice” throughout the state.

Such a fee was not authorized in Maddox’s loan documents, is not authorized by the Maryland Rules and violates the trustee’s duty to get the best price it can for the property, the court said.

4. Top court affirms City Paper’s win in club owner’s defamation lawsuit — by Steve Lash

The Baltimore City Paper did not defame a former nightclub owner by reporting that some people thought he could have been involved in a double murder, Maryland’s highest court held Monday.

In what attorneys for both sides are calling a victory for news media, the unanimous Court of Appeals said Maryland’s fair reporting and commentary laws protect the newspaper and its reporter from liability for fair and accurate coverage based on court documents and testimony, even if the resulting articles contained potentially defamatory material.

5. ‘Patent troll’ case comes to Maryland — by Ben Mook

Eighteen years ago, inventor Daniel Abelow received a patent for technology that allows for “accessing, assembling and using bodies of information” via computer.

That patent has changed hands twice and is now owned by a Texas company that has sued dozens of companies across the U.S. for allegedly infringement on their websites.