The case: Four Disgruntled Judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals v. Chief Judge Theodore R. Newman Jr.

The place: the court's private conference room.

The time: 3:45 p.m. today.

The judges: seven citizens, only one of them a judge by vocation.

Who makes up this unusual cast of people who will take over the judges inner sanctum temporarily? They are the seven members of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission who will meet for two days of hearings on the question of whether D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Theodore R. Newman Jr. should be redesignated as "chief" for another term.

And what has made the process even more unusual is that four of Newman's eight colleagues on the court have decided to testify against his reappointment.

It may be as ironic for four of the city's highest-ranking judges to submit a matter of internal court politics to a panel of citizens for judgment as it is for the citizens themselves to meet in the judges' private room to make the judgment.

"I felt a little uneasy about asking members of the court to come over to my law office," committee chairman Frederick B. Abramson acknowledged yesterday. "So we attempted to make them feel comfortable in their own back yard."

The commission, which has sole authority over choice of a chief judge, also is responsible for nominating candidates for local judgeships; this latter authority is subject to presidential approval. The commission already has designated Newman chief judge once -- in 1976 -- and has been involved in the selection of 22 D.C. Superior Court and Appeals Court judges.

The commission's members include chairman Abramson, attorneys Mary Ann Stein, William A. Borders Jr. and Charles T. Duncan: Hechinger's executive John W. Hechinger Sr., William Lucy, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene.

Abramson and Stein were appointed by the local bar association, Borders by President Carter, Duncan and Lucy by former mayor Walter Washington, Hechinger by the D.C. City Council, and Greene by the chief judge of the U.S. District Court here.

Some members of the commission had hoped their consideration of Newman's request to be renamed could be taken care of quickly and quietly, but the body was quickly plunged into a judicial rhubarb.

First there was the surprising letter signed by four of Newman's associates on the appellate bench -- Judges Frank Q. Nebeker, Stanley S. Harris, George R. Gallagher and John W. Kern III. The letter, dated Sept. 2, indicated that the judges would personally testify against Newman, and suggested that the commission designate as chief either of two other judges now on the court -- William C. Pryor or Catherine B. Kelly.

It is not clear, however, whether either judge would accept the job.

Then there was the complaint voiced that some commission members already had made up their minds on the issue of Newman's candidacy, a matter that was taken up at a meeting of the commission that bordered on acrimony.

"It has been suggested to me and to some of the members of the commission that a determination already has been made with respect to the redesignation of Judge Newman as chief judge and that the commission is somehow 'stacked,'" Abramson wrote to the four dissenting judges in a letter dated Oct. 3. "No such predetermination has been made, and the contrary suggestion is most offensive to me and to all of the members of the commission."

Finally there was the matter of where to meet. That was resolved when the group agreed to come to the court's own conference room. According to chairman Abramson, the commission will hear testimony from the four opposing judges, and about 20 lawyers and other citizens, including perhaps other judges from Newman's court. The commission will meet in private, and will not issue a report elaborating on the decision it will make in the matter. wThat decision is scheduled on Wednesday, Nov. 5.

The commission also has received about 70 letters commenting on the Newman reappointment controversy from lawyers, community leaders and even one citizen who claims to have lost a case before Newman.