Jean and Edgar Cahn, the codeans of Antioch University Law School since it was founded in 1972, were fired yesterday for alleged insubordination after the university's authority over the unusual school was upheld by a D.C. Superior Court judge.

William M. Birenbaum, the president of Antioch, which has nine campuses around the country in addition to its Washington law school, said he took the action because of the Cahn's "defiance" of the university's trustees. t

Edgar Cahn retorted later that the firings were "purely vindictive retribution" because he and his wife had refused to turn over tuitions and other money to the central treasury of the financially troubled university in Ohio.

Cahn said he feared that if the firings are not reversed, the school would lose a $450,000 federal grant for its clinical law program.

Located at 2633 16th St. NW, Antioch Law School operates as a "public-interest law firm" for the poor in addition to training new lawyers. Besides taking standard law courses, its students are required to work in a legal-aid clinic under faculty supervision.

About one-third of the 422 students in its professional programs are minority group members. More than 40 percent are women.

On Friday, Judge George H. Revercomb denied the law school's contention that its financial and administrative autonomy was necessary both to protect the interests of students who had paid tuitions and to guarantee the salaries of faculty members in view of the university's financial problems.

Revercomb said the Cahns would have to transfer the money -- about $1 million -- to Ohio within a week.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down, J. Alan Galbraith, the university attorney, relayed a request from Birenbaum that the two deans resign by 5 p.m. Friday.When the Cahns refused to quit, they were fired through telegrams they received yesterday afternoon.

"They were fired because they were insubordinate," Galbraith said in an interview. "They failed to turn over university revenues after repeated directives. This university and no university can operate with insubordinate employes."

The current dispute began in May when Antioch, a private college founded in 1853, was near bankruptcy. It stopped paying debts and missed its May payroll.

Cahn said he stopped handing over money to the central treasury then out of fear that it would not be used for law school operations, but instead might pay Antioch's expenses elsewhere.

"We simply couldn't trust them," he said. "We simply didn't want to be part of a swindle taking money from our students and not being sure we could teach them."

University officials contended that the Cahns used the crisis as an opportunity to break away from Antioch. All the university's other branches have cooperated in its financial stringency program, Birenbaum said, and Antioch's finances now are "getting on an even keel."

He said an acting dean to replace the Cahns would be appointed Monday. He said the law school's program would not be changed.