U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis, in a surprise move, told federal prosecutors yesterday they erred in their handling of racketeering and conspiracy charges against former Alexandria Bar Association president James I. Burkhardt earlier this year.

Burkhardt was acquitted by a jury last April on charges he funneled bribes from convicted prostitution ring leader Louis Michael Parrish to then-chief city prosecutor William L. Cowhig.

"You would have been justified for prosecuting Burkhardt if you had done it with the original indictment," which charged Parrish and two associates with running the $1 million-a-year massage parlor ring based in Alexandria, Lewis said.

"I know you wanted Burkhardt . . . but the jury didn't believe you when you [indicted Burkhardt] later," Lewis added.

Parrish and his two companions were convicted in March 1979.

Lewis' comments came during a hearing at which lawyers for Parrish and one of his codefendants, Larry J. Wadino, sought reduced sentences for the two men. Although prosecutors told Lewis they would not oppose the move because Parrish and Wadino had [TEXT OMITTED] investigation of Burkhardt, the judge was unmoved.

"Their cooperation wasn't very successful," Lewis said. "This was not a two-bit prostitution case, it was as close as you can get to organized racketerring. They [Parrish and Wadino] corrupted the lives of a lot of people. Three months in prison is not enough."

Prosecutor Joseph A. Fisher III did not reply directly to Lewis' criticism, knowing why the jury" acquitted Burkhardt last spring. Fisher and prosecutor Theodore S. Greenberg declined to comment further outside of court.

Legal sources said yesterday it was unusual for a judge to comment from the bench on prosecutor's handling of a case that ended in acquittal, but that such comments were typical of Lewis, 78, the sometimes controversial senior judge in Alexandria.

Parrish and Wadino received five-year prison terms, which they started serving three months ago after their appeals were exhausted. Codefendant Kathy Lynn Caldwell received an indeterminate sentence of up to four years in prison.

"I have no comment to make," Burkhardt said yesterday from his office, after being told of Lewis' remarks. "I'm just glad it's over."

Parrish and Wadino both testified against Burkhardt last April, but a juror said after the verdict their credibility was a factor in the Burkhardt acquittal. "The evidence [of the payoffs] wasn't all that convincing," the juror said.

At the time the Parrish and Wadino indictments were handed up on Jan. 29, 1979, law enforcement sources said prosecutors were concerned about indicting Burkhardt along with the others because indicting a lawyer, even if ultimately acquitted, could ruin his career. After Parrish and Wadino were convicted, however, they agreed to testify for the prosecution against Burkhardt.

Once Parrish and Wadino agreed to cooperate with investigators, prosecutors sought Burkhardt's indictment law enforcement officials said.