Fighting what he concedes is an uphill battle to become Maryland attorney general, republican Warren Rich charged yesterday that his Democratic opponent has confused the public into thinking the attorney general can be primarily a statewide prosecutor of corruption cases.

In his first major press conference since winning the Republican primary Sept. 12 Rich asserted that 90 percent of the office's work is civil - not criminal - and that his foe a former federal prosecutor Stephen Sachs, is "distorting the nature of the office" by emphasizing the prosecution role.

"I think it's demeaning . . . a political ploy,"

Sachs quickly responded that Rich's comments "belittle and mock the law enforcement role of the attorney general. I believe that the first responsiblity of the attorney general is to see to it that the state itself obeys the law."

Sachs said that the attorney general has ignored this crucial role for years, but that be would bring a "law en forcement cast of mind" to all aspects of the office - from consumer protection cases to investiyations of official corruption.

Sachs, a Baltimore lawyer who was Maryland's U.S. attorney in the late 1960s, defied the Maryland tradition of running on a gubernatorial ticket in the primary and is continuing to run independently in the general election.

Rich, who recently went into private practice after a seven-year stint as the top environmental lawyer in the attorney general's office, is running on a ticket with Republican candidate for governor J. Glenn Beall.

Rich said yesterday that while Sachs charges that "I'm a political captive of Glenn Beall," it is Sachs in fact who is "not independent." Rich said "independence is a state of mind," one that he possesses because he has no political ambitions and therefore will make all his decisions independent of political consquences.

"I will never run again for any other political office," the 39-year-old Rich asserted.

Rich, however, charged that Sachs "wants to be governor," and will use the attorney general's office as a political steppingstone.

He also charged that Sachs has made "political deals" to win support from one old guard Baltimore Democratic club. But when asked for specifics or proof, Rich offered none.

Sachs said Rich's remarks overlook the fact that he ran alone and got 250,000 votes while Rich was the chosen nominee of Beall. He also said he hopes to be attorney general for the next eight years.

Rich yesterday received the endorsement of Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley, Democrat.