The wheels of justice turn slowly, and that is particularly true in antitrust cases. So it is no surprise that a landmark antitrust suit brought by Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs against the largest health insurers in Maryland and the District of Columbia has progressed relatively little since October.

The federal suit charges that the Maryland and D.C. Blue Cross-Blue Shield corporations have illegally restrained trade by allocating exclusive sales territories in Maryland, with the D.C. companies getting the Washington suburban counties and the Maryland firms, based in Baltimore, getting the rest.

The suit is the first of its kind in the nation, and has sparked a fair amount of interest in other states, according to Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Kunzer. If successful, the suit could overturn the national Blue Cross-Blue Shield Association's practice of assigning territories to its 95 member companies.

Since February, U.S. District Judge Herbert Murray has been digesting arguments presented by both sides on the question of whether the marketing agreement is exempt from federal antitrust laws. A final decision on that motion -- which could either bring Sachs' suit to a screeching halt or begin the real arguments on the case's merits -- is expected sometime in August.

Asked why the progress of the suit appears so glacial, Kunzer said: "Antitrust actions generally move slowly. We are trying to push it as fast as we can, but the judicial docket being what it is, we can only do so much."