A letter just in says, "I feel compelled to comment on your recent article about judges, the sentences they hand down and the subsequent reductions made in those sentences.

"As you may recall, I served on the bench in Maryland for many years. The sentencing situation caused mamy resignations, also the refusal of good men to serve as judges.

"In addition to the absurd reductions in sentences that you described, we have in Maryland a parole systen that permits the Parole Board to release any convict at any time following sentencing. There are no restrictions in Maryland as to the time a convicted person must serve.

"As a result, if a judges thinks a convicted defendant should serve 10 years, he sentences him to 20 with the result that he actually serves perhaps three or four years.

"Our judicail system should not tolerate such sentencing practices.

"It is no wonder the public is confused and disgusted.

"If you publish this letter, please do not use my name. Just refer to me as a retired Maryland judge."

Another letter on this subject is from Hank Siegel. Hank was at B'nai B'rith headquarters on the day Hamaas Abdul Khaalis and the Hanafi Muslims took over that building, the Distric Building and the Islamic Center.

After Siegel was freed, his account of what had happened began with these words:

"As I lay down on the dirty cement floor, my wrists tightly bound above my head, I wondered if I had done the right thing in complaining about the difficulty I had in breathing. Only a minute earlier, Hamaas Abdul Khaalis had offered to cut off my head so that I might have a 'quick and clean' death instead of suffering another heart attack."

My column on sentencing practices moved Seigel to express disapproval of "the apparent habit of judges to dish out heavy sentences under the glare of publicity, only to reduce them when no one is watching."

Siegel added: "One the day before you wrote about it, The Washington Post published two letters complaining about Judge Nicholas Nunzio's action in freeing one of the terrorists who seized the three buildings -- an episode in which one person was killed, several were shot and stabbed and dozens of others beaten.

"As the wife of one of the hostages said in her letter, the terrorist who was released as 'rehabilitated' had claimed in a letter to Judge Nunzio that he had participated in a 'situation in profound conflict with my sense of right or wrong.' But that did not stop him from assaulting her husband so that he suffers permanent physial damage. Nor did it prevent him from manhandling me twice threatening my life, or from hitting several others, including two women.

"All of this makes me wonder not only about the judges but also about the attorneys who advise and guide terrorists on ways to get out of prison before their time. I can't speak for either group of 'officers of the court' but I can say for myself and the hotages seized with me that such action scares the hell out of us. I don't think that anyone who has not experienced it can realize the emotional setback Judge Nunzio's action brought upon us. We are also dumfounded by the silence of The Post over it."

I can speak only for myself, Hank. My criticism has been directed at common sentencing practices, not at specific cases. I was silent about Judge Nunzio's action because I had to respect his judgment that this prisoner had indeed been rehabilitated and was ready to resume a useful life.

Our courts operate under an adversary system of jurisprudence. Prosecutors are supposed to be as zealous in protecting the innocent as they are in punishing the guilty, but defense lawyers are supposed to do everything they can to help their clients, even those who appear to be guilty.

If lawyers refused to exert their best efforts on behalf of clients who appear to be guilty, innocent defendents who appear guilty would find the entire might of the state arrayed against them. The presumption that every person is innocent until proved guilty would become meaningless.

The theory is that truth will emerge from such adversay proceedings, and that justice will be served. But it might be well for our best legal minds to reexamine that theory periodically and report to the people on whether it remains sound or whether the system needs amendment.