Maryland's highest court heard arguments today on whether a Washington Post reporter should be ordered to testify before a Prince George's grand jury investigating a number of male rapes that allegedly took place in the County Detention Center over the last year.

Last January, Circuit Court Judge Arthur M. Ahalt ordered Post reporter Loretta Tofani to appear before the special grand jury to answer questions arising from a series of articles she wrote entitled, "Rape in the County Jail." The Prince George's county state's attorney argued that Tofani's testimony was necessary to pursue indictments of several inmates who were mentioned in her series. Tofani refused to testify.

The series detailed a dozen instances of jail rape and sexual assault and was based on conversations with inmates who said they had raped or assaulted men in the jail and whose names were revealed in the stories. The grand jury later indicted 12 men in connection with sexual assaults in the jail. Eleven were indicted for incidents mentioned in the series.

Post lawyer Kevin T. Baine told the seven-member Court of Appeals that the series had "impact" because it "named names," and that forcing a reporter to testify about her findings would "discourage precisely the sort of reporting we had in this case." Baine argued that Ahalt's order was not consistent with Maryland law, which he said protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources in a judicial proceeding.

Tofani won the Pulitzer Prize last month for her series in the category of special local reporting.

Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Howard Meredith, arguing that Tofani should be required to testify, told the judges that she had published the names of several men who said they had raped other inmates and that, in so doing, had waived her right to protect their identities under the Maryland law known as the "shield law."

Baine countered that Tofani's ability to gather information from sources in the future would be hampered if she were forced to confirm before a grand jury the names published in the stories and give details of her conversations with inmates.

Lawyers could not say when a decision might be reached in the case.