'Sun' May Take Fight With Governor to Appeals Court

By: (AP) Maryland's biggest newspaper said Friday it will take its First Amendment fight with Gov. Robert Ehrlich to a federal appeals court next week unless the two sides can reach a settlement.

The (Baltimore) Sun has until Wednesday to appeal a Feb. 14 federal court ruling that dismissed the paper's lawsuit challenging an Ehrlich order that barred state employees from talking to two Sun writers.

Neither side seemed conciliatory at a newspaper industry meeting Friday in Pikesville, where Paul E. Schurick, chief spokesman for the first-term Republican governor, all but accused The Sun of printing biased news stories.

"This is a newspaper that didn't want Bob Ehrlich to win this election and I am convinced will go to extraordinary lengths to try to ensure that he doesn't win re-election if he runs next year," Schurick said.

Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin countered that his paper has "really been the subject of an unprecedented smear campaign by the administration." He cited several recent examples of Ehrlich and other state officials publicly disparaging the accuracy of Sun stories that Franklin said were correct.

"We don't take it lightly when falsehoods are being spread about our newspaper," Franklin said.

Yet both men, sitting on a panel sponsored by The Associated Press at the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association meeting, said they hoped the dispute would be settled without further litigation.

Schurick also had praise for one of the writers, David Nitkin, whose promotion from statehouse bureau chief to state political editor was announced Friday. "I have great respect for him. I think he's a very good journalist and he's a good guy," Schurick said.

Schurick revealed that it was his idea to "pull the plug" on Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker on Nov. 18 because Ehrlich felt they weren't reporting objectively on his administration.

"It was my recommendation," Schurick said. "It was something that I wasn't particularly comfortable with, but I wouldn't hesitate to do again if I find myself in the same situation."

The Sun filed a federal lawsuit in December claiming the order violated the writers' First Amendment rights by denying them the same opportunities to seek information as anyone else. Judge William D. Quarles Jr. dismissed the complaint, ruling the paper had not shown it suffered irreparable harm.


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