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First Mariner files false-advertising suit

First Mariner Bank is crying foul in a federal lawsuit over letters sent to its customers by a Connecticut-based law firm that claims the bank is facing litigation for fraudulent lending practices.

Baltimore-based First Mariner denies the allegations of improper lending as being patently false. It says the letter sent by The Resolution Law Group P.C. of Greenwich is little more than an advertisement for mortgage-reduction services and that it is being done at the expense of First Mariner’s reputation.

First Mariner co-counsel Julie R. Rubin, of Astrachan Gunst Thomas & Rubin PC of Baltimore, called the letter a textbook example of false advertising. She said customers receiving the official-looking document could be led to believe there is litigation or an investigation being undertaken over the bank’s lending practices, neither of which is true.

“If I were a bank customer with a mortgage at First Mariner, it would make me very uncomfortable to get this letter,” Rubin said. “It would make me think my bank was doing something illegal and I was a victim.”

The complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, includes claims for false advertising, defamation, unfair competition and injurious falsehood. Specific damage amounts are not listed.

According to the complaint, “[the Resolution Law Group’s] conduct in preparing and mailing the Advertisement containing the false and misleading statements was undertaken with a malicious intent to injure First Mariner’s business and goodwill, and to induce the targeted recipient of the Advertisement to call RLG about mortgage reduction services offered by RLG.”

The letter carries the heading “Litigation Notification” and only mentions the law firm by name in the small print at the bottom. The letter tells customers they need to take action by calling a toll-free number to “opt-in” as a potential national litigant if the lawsuit is filed.

The letter also says the lawsuit would be filed on allegations of “improper lender actions,” and, by joining the lawsuit the customer could be entitled to reduced mortgage rates, monthly payments or monetary damages.

R. Geoffrey Broderick Jr., senior attorney with RLG, said Monday that he had not seen First Mariner’s lawsuit and was not aware that the bank planned legal action.

“I’m unaware that this occurred,” Broderick said. “We were never sent any type of demand letter.”

The Connecticut bar lists Broderick’s address as being in San Clemente, Calif. Reached by cell phone on Monday, Broderick declined to comment on the pending litigation but said his firm has a history of working with people facing foreclosure.

“We’re a fantastic firm that helps out a lot of people,” Broderick said.

First Mariner Bank, which has been struggling financially to raise its capital levels, is in the midst of a deal with a New York-based private equity firm.