IT WAS THE SUMMER of 1976, and Eugene McCarthy was running for president as an independent candidate. Washington lawyer Craig T. Sawyer agreed to help by filing a U.S. court suit in Baltimore challenging Maryland's stiff requirements to get on the printed ballot.

The only trouble, the D.C. Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility reported in an official opinion last week, was that Sawyer never filed the suit.

As a result of that cause and one involving a businessman's bad debts where Sawyer also failed to follow through on promised actions, the Board of Professional Responsibility recommended that the D.C. Court of Appeals disbar Sawyer. The court is responsible for policing the conduct of lawyers who practice in Washington.

The crowning blow in both cases as far as the board of Professional Responsibility was concerned is that Sawyer assured his clients he was actively working on their behalf.

He told McCarthy campaign aides, for example, that he had filed the suit. Later he reported that he had won a temporary injunction, gave the name of the judge handling the case and discussed three issues the judge wanted to have covered in a brief.

According to the board's opinion, Sawyer went on to say that he had won the suit and that the former senator's name would be included on the Maryland ballot.

As a result of that information, other McCarthy lawyers cited that ruling in cases in other states and issued a press release describing the decision that later was carried in several newspapers.

"The information given by respondent (Sawyer) to his clients was fabricated," the board found. "He never filed any action and no preliminary injuncation or permanent injuncation was ever granted."

The McCarthy committee learned of the fabrication when a report for a Baltimore newspaper told campaign aides he could find no record of the suit in federal court.

Baltimore attorneys John Armor and Philip P. Marcus, who were coordinating McCarthy's legal efforts across the country to get on the ballot as an independent candidate, filed the suit themselves. The court ruled they were too late.

"The infraction (by Sawyer) not only prejudiced respondent's client (McCarthy) but also raised an issue of serious prejudice to the public as a whole in that his malfeasance may have deprived voters in the state of Maryland of their right to consider McCarthy as a candidate," concluded an official hearing committee of the Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility.

Oddly enough, Armor and Marcus, who filed the complaint against Sawyer with the D.C. Bar, said that he should get off with an admonition -- the equivalent of a wrist slap -- for failing to file the suit and for lying to the campaign committee.

Still unanswered, though, is how a lawyer could expect to get away with spinning such a web of fabrication.

In its opinion, the Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility said that Sawyer "made little effort to explain, much less justify, his actions." Reached at his National Press Club office, Sawyer refused comment.

More heat on the Carter administration to increase the number of minorities and women it selects as new federal judges. The National Women's Political caucus complains that recommendations coming to the Justice Department remain heavily weighted in favor of white males.

Caucus head Mildred Jeffrey said only seven women have been included among the 99 persons recommended for district court seats and 14 women have been included among 102 candidates for new court of appeals seats.

"At every stage of the selection process," she said, "we have found well-qualified women excluded or overlooked."

Administration officials, though, say the women are looking at the wrong figures. President Carter's actual nominations from those recommendations have given women and minorities a fair shake, they said.

For example, administration sources cite the 17 Carter judicial nominations, which include two black men, one Hispanic man, four white women and one black woman.

Nonetheless, Ann K. Macrory, director of the Judicial Selection Project, pointed to Carter and Bell's own South, where she said it is politics as usual with most of the recommended candidates coming from the old courthouse gang.

More and more lawyers are talking about quiting government -- or not joining in the first place -- as a result of the stiff new ethics law that will make it harder for them to use the revolving doors to higher paying jobs in private practice.

One downtown lawyer said he knows of 20 government lawyers "in positions of high trust and responsibility" who are talking about quitting before the law takes effect July 1.

Another lawyer considered taking a high post with HEW, but decided against it -- partly because the new law would make it tough for him to get into private practice afterward.

One lawyer who lfet government without revolving: Margaret Cameron Tessier, formerly with the Controller of the Currency, has opened her own law office in Washington. No big bank practice for her. She's planning on a general practice working with small businesses and real estate transactions.

Much as Chief Justice Warren E. Bruger hates television coverage, he may have received an offer that he cannot refuse when Rep. Herb Harris (D-Va.) proposed that he address a televised session of the House and Senate to report on the state of the judiciary.

Burger presently gives that report to the American Bar Association, but refuses to allow TV cameras to cover his speech.

There's no decline in the number of lawyers who want to practice in Washington. Anthony Nigro, secretary of the D.C. Court of Appeals committee on admissions, reports that 775 persons took the midwinter bar exam -- twice as many as in previous years and coming close to matching the number two take the test in the summer.