Ehrlich's lawyers argue against reviving Sun suit


A Sun lawsuit against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. challenging the governor's ban on two Sun journalists should not be revived because the newspaper failed to provide sufficient evidence of irreparable harm from the ban, lawyers for the governor argued in a brief filed yesterday.

The 67-page brief was filed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., by Margaret Ann Nolan, chief of the civil division of the Maryland attorney general's office.

"In view of the Sun's failure to demonstrate any infringement of its First Amendment rights, the district court correctly allowed resolution of this dispute to be 'committed to the tug and pull of the political forces' in our democratic society," the brief concluded.

Ehrlich's ban, nearly seven months old, forbids state executive branch employees from speaking with Sun columnist Michael Olesker and Maryland political editor David Nitkin.

The ban 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 of dollars in tax breaks.

The Sun filed suit in December to have the ban lifted. In February, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. rejected that request and granted Ehrlich's motion to dismiss the case. The paper is appealing both decisions.

A coalition of the nation's leading news organizations filed a legal brief last month supporting The Sun's appeal, contending that the governor's ban on the two journalists was an act "characteristic of repressive regimes."

"Governor Ehrlich has instructed public officials who are paid by taxpayers to refrain from imparting information to the public. ... If it can be done to two journalists for the Baltimore Sun, others can be singled out," said the brief.

It was signed by lawyers representing the New York Times Co., The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Time Inc., CNN, the E.W. Scripps Co. and Advance Publications Inc., as well as numerous press associations, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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