Brief assails Ehrlich ban on pair of Sun journalists

By A Sun Staff Writer

A comprehensive brief from Sun lawyers challenging Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s ban on two Sun journalists has been filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

"The Governor has boldly punished two journalists and their newspaper based solely upon the Governor's subjective displeasure with what they had to say," Sun lawyers concluded in the argument filed Friday.

"Such conduct not only is hostile to the First Amendment, but it also renders constitutional safeguards completely illusory," they said.

In making their case, the lawyers contended that a U.S. District Court judge erred when he concluded that the paper was seeking special access to Maryland government officials.

"The Sun and its journalists seek - not preferred access - but the right not to have the highest official in the state deny them the same privileges afforded to any citizen," they said.

The 50-page brief was filed in support of an appeal of a February decision by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. dismissing a Sun lawsuit challenging the ban. The Sun appealed the ruling two months ago.

The ban, now six months old, targets David Nitkin, now Maryland political editor, and columnist Michael Olesker. It was imposed after Nitkin disclosed a state proposal to sell 836 acres of preserved forestland in St. Mary's County to Willard Hackerman, a politically connected construction company owner, in a deal that could have netted him millions in tax breaks.

The Sun filed suit in December to have the ban lifted. Quarles rejected that request and granted Ehrlich's motion to dismiss the case. The paper is appealing both decisions.

A spokeswoman for Ehrlich said yesterday that the governor's office had no comment on the appeal.

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