A federal appeals court panel today ordered a district court judge to end consideration of the government's decision to drop its antitrust case against International Business Machines Corp.

In a 26-page order, the three members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit were sharply critical of efforts by U.S. District Court Judge David N. Edelstein to review the Jan. 8 dismissal of the 13-year-old suit.

Edelstein, the judge who heard the entire litigation, "has abused his power by continuing a lawsuit which the two parties have sought eagerly to dismiss," the panel said in a decision written by Judge Thomas Meskill.

It was the second time the appeals court has rebuked Edelstein's actions since the government decided to abandon the suit. On June 18, the court ordered Edelstein to end proceedings he called to determine whether Assistant Attorney General William Baxter, head of the Antitrust Division, should have disqualified himself from the IBM case because of prior associations with the company before joining the administration.

At that time, the appeals court did not address the issue covered in today's decision. This decision concludes that Edelstein does not have the authority to review the IBM dismissal under the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act, widely known as the Tunney Act.

That seven-year-old statute gives judges the power to review antitrust consent decrees. But the appeals court rejected arguments put forth by Public Citizen Litigation Group and legal activist Philip M. Stern that the law also sets up review procedures for antitrust case dismissals.

"A review of the Tunney Act and its legislative history indicates the act's inapplicability to the stipulation of dismissal," the panel wrote.

An IBM official said the decision "speaks for itself."