Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced yesterday that he and several former aides are launching the Maryland office of a North Carolina-based law firm, which will include a public relations arm.

Ehrlich, who lost his reelection bid last year to Martin O'Malley (D), shared his plans to become a partner with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice during a series of media interviews at an Annapolis hotel.

Womble Carlyle employs about 550 lawyers in 11 offices, including in the District and Tysons Corner, with clients in such areas as life science, health care, manufacturing, transportation and communications.

Ehrlich, who in 2002 became the first Republican in a generation to be elected governor of Maryland, said his office will serve the firm's existing clients and seek to expand the practice.

"We want to build the firm here in Maryland, and that's really the first charge," Ehrlich, 49, said during an interview in which he was joined by former North Carolina governor James B. Hunt Jr. (D), a prominent member of the firm.

After the election, Ehrlich said he was interested in going back to work for a law firm and possibly pursuing activities including radio appearances and political consulting.

Before serving eight years in Congress, Ehrlich worked for the law firm of Ober Kaler Grimes and Shriver, including during his tenure as a state delegate.

Ehrlich said he is bringing three other lawyers with him to Womble Carlyle: David Hamilton, formerly of Ober Kaler, who served as Ehrlich's personal attorney in recent years; Edward B. Miller, a former deputy chief of staff; and J.P. Scholtes, who worked in Ehrlich's legal office.

Also joining the firm are three former members of Ehrlich's communications team: Henry Fawell, Greg Massoni and Paul E. Schurick. In addition to legal matters, the office plans to assist clients with communications strategies and crisis management.

Ehrlich said that talks began with Womble Carlyle shortly after the November election and that it is important to him to have the opportunity to "bring successful people with me who made the state successful."

Ehrlich said there could be additional staffing announcements.

The firm's Maryland office will be near the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and is expected to open Monday, Fawell said.

Hunt, who served four terms as North Carolina's governor, said Ehrlich's work to foster economic development in the state would be an asset to Womble Carlyle's corporate clients.

"He's an economic development governor, as I tried to be in North Carolina," Hunt said.