Lawyers for Md. Governor Defend 'Sun' Gag Order

By: (AP) Gov. Robert Ehrlich's ban prohibiting state employees from talking to two journalists at The (Baltimore) Sun does not infringe on their free-speech rights and has not hindered the reporters from doing their job, the state attorney general's office said in a court filing.

The office, which is representing Ehrlich, asked a federal judge to deny the Sun's request for a preliminary injunction lifting the ban.

The governor's Nov. 18 directive "does not deprive the plaintiffs of anything to which they are constitutionally entitled," the attorney general's office said in a response to the motion filed Tuesday by the Sun.

The Sun wants the ban lifted until the case is argued in court and there is a decision. No date has been set.

The ban barred state employees from speaking to Statehouse bureau chief David Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker, saying they were not reporting objectively on the administration. The Sun has defended the pair, offering to correct any factual errors if the governor's office points them out. The governor's office has not offered any list of incorrect stories.

Stephanie S. Abrutyn, a lawyer representing the newspaper, said yesterday that Ehrlich's "unprecedented action continues to put at risk any citizen of Maryland who says anything that he disapproves of. That's a violation of the First Amendment."

The attorney general's office dismissed as hyperbole the Sun's assertion that residents will fear "being next on the governor's censorship hit list."

"Nothing in the record supports that speculation," it said.

The attorney general's office said the Sun published 43 articles related to state government by Nitkin in the eight weeks prior to the ban and 43 in the eight weeks afterward.

"In short, The Sun and its reporters continue to fully exercise their rights to disseminate the news," the attorney general's office said.


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