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1st Mariner Bank scores win in defamation lawsuit

A federal judge has granted 1st Mariner Bank a judgment by default in its defamation lawsuit against an out-of-state lawyer and his firm.

Senior U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis also granted 1st Mariner’s request for sanctions against Robert Geoffrey Broderick Jr. and his Connecticut-based firm, The Resolution Law Group, for ignoring six court orders to respond to discovery requests.

Garbis gave 1st Mariner until Dec. 17 to submit a statement of remedies sought, according to the order, signed Wednesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey has already ordered Resolution and Broderick to pay 1st Mariner more than $35,000 in attorneys’ fees, according to James B. Astrachan, a lawyer for 1st Mariner.

Astrachan said his client plans to seek attorneys’ fees for the entire case under a provision of the Lanham Act that allows for such recovery in “exceptional cases.”

“If ever there was a case that was exceptional, this would be it,” said Astrachan, of Astrachan Gunst Thomas P.C. in Baltimore.

1st Mariner filed suit two years ago, alleging that Resolution was trying to drum up mortgage-refinancing clients by falsely claiming that 1st Mariner was facing regulatory action and litigation for fraudulent lending practices. The letter carried the heading “Litigation Notification” and appeared to be a class-action notice, telling customers they need to call a toll-free number to “opt-in” as a potential national litigant.

1st Mariner’s lawsuit included counts for defamation, false advertising and unfair competition.

Resolution claimed its letters were accurate, noting the financial difficulties the bank was facing at the time, which eventually led to the bankruptcy of First Mariner Bancorp this February.

Resolution is currently in receivership and being investigated by the attorneys general in Florida and Connecticut.

Garbis, in making his ruling, cited Gauvey’s April report recommending Broderick and Resolution be found in default for destroying evidence related to the underlying litigation by 1st Mariner. Gauvey called the defendants’ conduct “a ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ approach to legitimate discovery requests” and found Broderick had acted in bad faith.

“Discovery in this case has been ongoing for 16 months and due to Defendants’ repeated and ongoing discovery misconduct, this case has taken up an inordinate amount of judicial resources, and resulted in significant procedural and substantive prejudice to Plaintiff,” Gauvey wrote. “The Plaintiff has been stymied at every turn – written discovery, depositions, subpoenas – to get the evidence it needs to prosecute its claims.”

At a hearing in the case in April, Gauvey contemplated finding Broderick in contempt and sending him to jail for his actions.

Vincent A. Jankoski, a Silver Spring solo practitioner representing Broderick and Resolution, declined to comment on Garbis’ ruling because the litigation is still pending.

Garbis gave the defendants until Dec. 31 to respond 1st Mariner’s statement of remedies.

“If Defendants fail to respond,” Garbis wrote, “the Court shall determine the relief based upon Plaintiff’s submission.”

The defamation action is 1st Mariner Bank v. The Resolution Law Group, P.C. et al., 1:12-cv-01133-MJG.