A Howard County Circuit Court judge voided a gag order prohibiting top county officials from discussing a pending embezzlement case today after lawyers for the county and a newspaper called the gag unconstitutional.
Lawyer Nathan Greene won the order Tuesday on behalf of Angenette D. Norton, one of two former county employes charged with theft in an alleged $250,000 embezzlement scheme involving the county's Office of Finance.
But Judge Raymond J. Kane lifted the gag order after a hearing today at which County Solicitor Timothy E. Welsh and G. Stewart Webb Jr., a lawyer for the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper, said the measure was "overly broad" and "unconstitutional."
Kane ordered another hearing on the matter Tuesday, but Greene said he will drop the quest. "It now becomes a serious question as to whether or not more publicity will attach itself to the case in further pursuit of this motion," he said.
Howard County Executive J. Hugh Nichols held a news conference after the hearing to announce the formation of a three-member commission of business executives to study procedures in the county Office of Finance.
Nichols also said the county will file lawsuits against 200 Howard residents to collect personal property taxes that have been delinquent since last December.
During the 20-minute court hearing, the main point of contention was whether Welsh and State's Attorney William R. Hymes had agreed to the gag order.
Kane noted that both were informed of the pending action and neither had expressed opposition to it.
Evening Sun laywer Webb argued that the court should determine whether pre-trial publicity presents a "clear and present danger" to the defendant's rights before issuing a gag order.