Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch, under attack for the plea bargain agreement that put Pallottine priest Guido John Carcich on probation, went on the offensive yesterday to shore up his campaign for governor.

Burch accused Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and Stephen Sachs, the only Democratic candidate for attorney general, of making "irresponsible" remarks critical of the plea bargain.

Two weeks ago, Carcich was ordered to minister to the needs of prison inmates for a year in exchange for a guilty plea to charges he mishandled more than $2 million donated for the poor. Since the agreement was announced Burch has faced a barrage of angry public comments including those of Lee and Sachs.

Lee said last week that the probation penalty "seemed like pretty soft treatment mainly because the gentleman is a clergyman."

Sachs was quoted as saying that a person like Carcich who takes "money of the little people belongs in jail."

Burch reacted yesterday. "The truth is Acting Gov. Lee doesn't know anything about the case," he said.

At a Prince George's County press conference, his second press outing of the day, the attorney general said Lee and much of the public had the wrong impression about the complex case, believing that Carcich took $2 million for himself.

"That is not the case, and he [Lee] should have inquired with my office before he went on the record with this [statement]," Burch said angrily.

Burch also charged that Sachs, a former prosecutor "who should have known the $2 million was not stolen," was voicing "irresponsible" criticism "because he's running for attorney general."

Sachs later told a reporter that he fully understands the facts of the Carcich case and believes "entire handling of it was dead, flat wrong."

"The trouble with the attorney general is if you disagree with him, [he says] you're making political hay," Sashs added.

Burch has said previously that Carcich did not take $2.2 million, as in a theft, but "secreted" it in bank accounts and that the penalty Carcich got is "a more meaningful result" than could have been achieved through a trial, even if the priest had been convicted.