A lawyer for Attorney General Edwin Meese III told the U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday that it was appropriate for him to ask the government for reimbursement of fees for "time devoted to contacts with the news media" despite objections from an editor at The (Baltimore) Evening Sun.

In a letter to editorial-page editor Ray Jenkins that was filed with the court clerk, Leonard Garment also said he did not bill for time his law firm spent considering a libel suit against The Sun, contrary to Jenkins' statement to the court. But in a telephone interview, Garment said the firm did bill for time spent seeking a retraction to a Sun editorial critical of Meese and drafting a proposed editorial. The Sun refused to publish the editorial, which contained an apology to Meese, but invited Garment to write a letter to the editor.

Meese's attorneys have asked the court to approve reimbursement of more than $720,000 in legal fees incurred while they defended him during an independent counsel's investigation of his personal finances while he was White House counsel. Meese was cleared and later confirmed by the Senate.

The attorneys' request said that 10 percent to 15 percent of their time was "devoted to contacts with the news media."

Jenkins told the court Monday that he objected "strenuously" to federal reimbursement for the time Meese's attorneys spent seeking a retraction from The Sun, drafting an editorial and suggesting the possibility of a libel suit against the newspaper.

A member of Garment's firm estimated the cost of seeking the retraction and drafting the editorial at between several hundred dollars and $2,000. Garment said drafting the editorial took him 10 or 15 minutes.