A Justice Department official yesterday sharply criticized a creditors' committee of lawyers representing women who say they were injured by the Dalkon Shield, A. H. Robins Co.'s intrauterine contraceptive device.

The panel "is not manageable and representative in light of the circumstances" of Robins' voluntary bankruptcy, U.S. Trustee William C. White said in papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond. The committee "should be dissolved or at least reconstituted," he said.

White asked U.S. District Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr., who presides over the bankruptcy, "to change the size and membership of the Committee of Representatives of Dalkon Shield Claimants to achieve a manageable committee of claimants, or, in the alternative, to dissolve the committee."

The papers did not elaborate on White's statement that the committee, which was formed last Sept. 24, is unmanageable. He declined to comment.

The papers did note that White had appointed the committee's 37 members, who deal with the bulk of Robins' indebtedness. Elimination of the committee thus could complicate resolution of the bankruptcy case.

Committee member Bradley Post said he was "extremely disappointed" by White's action. The panel has been "functioning very well in spite of its size," and committee Chairman Mary Beth Ramey "has done a fantastic job," he said.

Another indication of behind-the-scenes difficulties emerged yesterday with the unexplained resignation of the Washington law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft as the committee's counsel.

Robins filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code Aug. 21. The filing froze the product-liability lawsuits of 5,100 U.S. women who had used shields before Robins halted sales in at least 80 countries more than a decade ago. More than 150,000 other women have filed claims, and thousands more are expected to do so before the April 30 deadline set by Merhige.

Counsel for the company and shield users have been discussing the possibility of a settlement by March 31, the court-set deadline for Robins to come up with a plan to get its financial affairs in order.