In an unusual display of pique, a federal judge here has accused government lawyers being "customarily late, customarily deficient and customarily ignorant local rules" in his court.

U.S. District Judge D. Dortch Warriner issued his broadside in an order that look government lawyers to task for their alleged failure to respond on time to an allegation in a tax case. The judge later rescinded part of his order when it was learned the reply had not been late after all.

In his criticism, Warriner said, "Whenever a private litigant strays one millimeter from proper procedure, the United States is quick, almost vicious, in its demands that the miscreant be brought to book. But when it is the United States that transgresses the rules, sanctimonious pap about the public interest and baleful illusions to bureaucratic backlogs are supposed to excuse the imposition on the court and the opposing parties."

The judge suggested the government approaches lawsuits with the attitude that it is entitled to special privileges.

U.S. Attorney William B. Cummings, who is the Justice Department's chief representative in the Eastern District of Virginia, said he did not think the judge's criticism was warranted. "You don't often come across this kind of thing in this district," Cummings said, adding that he would seek a personal meeting with Warriner to review the matter.

"To accuse us of being vicious . . . I just don't think it's happening . . . I know of no foundation for that whatever," he said. He also denied that government lawyers were frequently late of deficient in their work. Cummings noted that Warriner's comments were directed only to civil issues.

In a race and sex discrimination case brought by Justice against the Virginia State Police, Warriner recently critized government lawyers in pretrial discussions.

In still another recent case, he found three Richmond officials in contempt of court for their alleged failure to implement a program aimed at overcoming racial discrimination in the Richmond Police Bureau. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, however.

The Eastern judicial district encompasses Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Tidewater. He often sits in Alexandria.