Sun asks court to lift ban by Ehrlich


The Baltimore Sun Co. filed a motion yesterday in U.S. District Court asking that a Nov. 18 Ehrlich administration order banning state employees from speaking with two Sun writers be immediately lifted.

The governor's press office said the ban was ordered because Sun State House bureau chief David Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker were "failing to objectively report" on state issues.

The Sun filed suit challenging the ban on First Amendment grounds shortly after it was ordered.

Yesterday's motion states that if the ban is not lifted, "The Sun, Mr. Nitkin and Mr. Olesker will remain unable to speak and listen freely, as is their right, and each citizen in Maryland will fear the Governor's wrath if the Executive does not like what the citizen says."

A Sun spokesman said the company's executives felt it was necessary to file the request for a preliminary injunction because talks with the governor aimed at ending the ban appeared to be stalled.

After a meeting between the governor and Sun executives on Dec. 17, representatives of both sides said progress had been made toward a resolution.

"We had hopes the negotiations would be fruitful ... but now we have very little choice but to proceed through the courts," said Sun Public Affairs Manager Alonza Williams. "We need to expedite this matter and get it resolved as quickly as possible."

On Monday, Ehrlich's lawyers asked Judge William D. Quarles, who is hearing the Sun case, to dismiss it, saying the paper had failed to demonstrate how the ban violates the First Amendment.

Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said yesterday that the governor's legal counsel was reviewing yesterday's motion by The Sun but the governor was standing behind his motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The motion to dismiss asserted that The Sun's claim "boils down to an assertion that two of its employees have a constitutional right to have State employees return telephone calls - a premise unsupported by any First Amendment jurisprudence."

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