"I guess you have to have a little tyranny in your soul to be chief judge," said Wallace E. Shipp Jr., a defense lawyer at D.C. Superior Court, when asked what qualities he prefers and judicial selection committee to emphasize when it names a chief judge.

"The chief judge has to have a real understanding" of the mechanics of moving hundreds of cases through the court each day because "that's where the system either goes or dies," said Shipp, who is not a member of the commission that will choose a new chief judge.

The chief judge "has to be the epitome of justice," said City Council member David A. Clarke (D.-ward 1), who is chairman of the council's judiciary committee.

"The quality of community sensitivity rates very high with me," said council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D.-Ward 8), who is a member of Clarke's committee.

"I think a black would be smart choice," Rolark said.

For the past several weeks, the seven-member D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission has been locked in a vigorous debate over these issues, unable to choose a new chief judge or even sort out the primary qualities to emphasize in the selection process, sources have said.

Their choice has been made difficult by the fact that the four Superior Court judges who are candidates for the job are all considered qualified to be chief judge, sources said.

According to sources, the candidates for the chief judgeship are Judges James A. Belson, Joyce Hens Green, H. Carl Moultrie I and Tim Murphy. All have been interviewed by the commission.

The new chief judge will succeed Chief Judge Harold H. Greene, who is expected to resign from the Superior Court this month to take a seat on the U.S. District Court here. The Commission designates a chief judge to serve a four-year term.

A straw vote within the commission two weeks ago showed Belson with three votes and the rest split between Moultrie and Green, sources said. After indications that some support would switch to Moultrie, he was interviewed again by five commission members, but questions remained, sources said.

Then in an unusual move, which some observers felt indicated the competition had opened up again, the commission asked all four candidates to submit a written paper describing "how I shall proceed if I am designated chief of judge." Those papers are due today.

And, as community interest in the choice has intensified, supporters have tried to privately persuade some commission members to vote for particular candidates, sources said.

While the commission waits for the candidates' written answers, lawyers, community leaders, Superior Court judges and officials continue the guessing game over the qualities of leadership most needed.

Among other things, they say, the chief judge should be a dignified and fair spokesman for the court, a resident of the city and faithful to the new home rule government. The chief judge should be a leader in legal scholarship, setting the tone for the 43 judges in his court, and should be willing to share power with other judges and court officials, some of these observers said.

Some sources have said the commission's closed door deliberations have focused on whether the new cheif judge's primary qualification should be administrative ability or sensitivity to community concerns.

"I don't think there is any question that . . . (the judge's relationship with the community is important," attorney Charles R. Work, formerly a top prosecutor at the Superior Court, said. But "the most important thing in my mind is having . . . an interest in administration and an interest in reform and improvement," said Work, who is also a former deputy chief of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

Some persons interviewed said they thought the division of the discussion into those two categories unfairly pits Belson on the administrative side against Moultrie on the side of community ties. Both men, their supporters say, have demonstrated each quality.

"Both score high on community ties, but they are different communities," one source said.

Belson, 47, was a partner in the prestigious Washington law firm of Hogan and Hartson before he was named to the Superior Court bench in 1968.

Belson was an early proponent of bail reform laws in the District and has taken an active role in administrative changes at the court, such as the simplification of some procedures in the court's civil division.

Moultrie, 63, a judge since 1972, was active in a long list of community organizations before he was named to the bench. He was president of the Washington chapter of the NAACP during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Both Murphy's and Green's chances for the chief judgeship are lessened, some sources have said, because neither lives in Washington.

Green, however, impressed some commission members with imaginative ideas for changes in the court system. Well respected by her colleagues for her careful handling of complicated cases, Green also has additional support from community members who think a woman should hold a high post in the city court system. Green, 49, has been a judge for 10 years.

Murphy, 48, a government prosecutor before he came onto the Superior Court bench in 1966, is widely respected by lawyers who think he has the administrative skill - and willingness to try new ideas - that a chief judge needs. However, Murphy has been criticized for being overly harsh with some people who appear in his courtroom.

Some members of the black community have said they think a black should head the trial court in a city that is 75 percent black.

Others would put the racial question on the bottom of their list of criteira in the selection of the chief judge, if it is to be considered at all.

"The black bar has a substantial input into the judiciary now to the point where I would not personally feel it was symptomatic . . . of discrimination if a white candidate were selected," Ralph J. Temple, a member of the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar, said.

Moultrie is the only black who is a candidate for the chief judgeship.

"Given the situation on the bench today, it's not something we have to worry about," Temple said.

As a spokesman for the court, the chief judge must also deal effectively with the City Council and the Congress, which controls the court budget, according to lawyers and community leaders. But some were reluctant to emphasize the importance of a candidate's abilities as a "legal politician."

"You know, the chief judge of the Superior Court is not the mayor," one source said.

Several persons interviewed expressed concern about whether the new chief judge would be willing to delegate some administrative responsibility to other judges or court officials.

Those comments reflected a frequent criticism of Chief Judge Greene, who was often accused of being too tight-fisted with his authority.

In a recently completed report on the selection of chief judges, a committee of the D.C. Bar said the chief judge must instill "a team spirit of management" at the Superior Court, one source said.

The committee said it could not overemphasize the importance it attaches to management of the court as a "joint responsibility among all its judges," according to this source.

The D.C. Bar, which has two representatives on the judicial nomination commission, has "decided as a matter of policy not to recommend" a particular person for the job of chief judge, according to D.C. Bar President Robert Weinberg.

The predominately black Washington Bar Association has told the commission it supports Moultrie and the D.C. Bar Association, a voluntary organization of lawyers, has endorsed Belson, according to officials of those organizations.