State can keep Kuwait agreement secret, judge says Disclosure could hurt port's competitiveness, ruling says.

August 01, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

A Baltimore judge has ruled that the state may keep secret an agreement with Kuwait designed to ship goods destined for Kuwait through the port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Disclosure of the document could hurt the port's competitive position against rival ports, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Thomas E. Noel ruled yesterday.

State officials in May ballyhooed the agreement as a boon to Maryland but have refused to make the document public.

Citing the state's public information law, The Evening Sun and The Washington Post asked for copies of the document. State officials refused and took the unusual step of asking a judge to allow them to keep the document secret.

Judge Noel agreed, saying disclosure could constitute a potential "substantial injury to the public interest."

State officials have conceded that the agreement is a public record but should be kept secret to avoid hurting the state's interests.

"I'm happy he ruled quickly, but I'm disappointed," said Douglas D. Connah Jr., an attorney representing The Evening Sun.

nTC While the document has not been formally released, some details have emerged.

One former state employee said the agreement may mean little new business for the state. The agreement does not require Kuwait to do business in Maryland, according to an official who has seen the document.

State officials have been fighting to keep the document secret in large part to appease the Kuwaitis, who asked that the agreement not be released, sources have said.

Noel issued no written opinion in the case. He said the court would reconsider the issue in six months.

Connah said the newspaper had made no decision on appealing.

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