It's no secret that the candidates for D.C. mayor this year are wooing local trial lawyers. But when the politicking got too obvious in a private dining room at the D.C. Superior Court, Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I got a little concerned.

Moultrie allows the 100-member D.C. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association to use the private judges' dining room for breakfast meetings from time to time. Lately, the guest list has been mostly local office-seekers, starting last September with Mayor Marion Barry, followed by mayoral candidates and City Council members John Wilson, Betty Anne Kane and, two weeks ago, John Ray.

One of the discussion topics on the agendas is, "What can you do for us?" Another is, "What can we do for you?"

"We're not political," says association president Irv Foster. The issues on the agenda include general problems in the criminal justice system that concern the lawyers, Foster said. But others say Moultrie, who privately asked association officials to tone things down, disagreed.

Meanwhile, less than a month after her appearance, Betty Anne Kane introduced a bill on the subject most near and dear to the lawyers' hearts--their pay rates. Kane's bill would eliminate the ceiling on pay rates for lawyers appointed by the court to represent indigents--which is exactly what most of the trial lawyers do. Those rates have been frozen for 10 years at $20 an hour for out of court time and $30 an hour for every hour spent in trial.

Later, when Ray made his appearance in the dining room, he told the lawyers he would back Kane's bill.