Veteran public interest lawyer William A. Dobrovir, who got some unwanted notoriety in 1973 when he played one of Richard Nixon's White House tapes for his friends, is in hot water again. This time the matter could be more serious than playing parlor games.

The trouble involves Dobrovir's representation of a group of dissident members of the Laborers International Union of North America who want to oust the union leadership. The dissidents are suing, among others, Robert J. Connerton, the union's general counsel, who is represented by Stephen Sacks at Arnold & Porter.

In a sworn affidavit filed in U.S. court last week, Sacks laid out the details of what he called a "highly improper" proposal by Dobrovir. Sacks said Dobrovir suggested that he would recommend that his clients drop their charges against Connerton if Connerton could successfully influence the choice of a new union president -- namely one who was acceptable to Dobrovir's clients.

According to Sacks, Dobrovir made the proposal during a meeting in Sacks' office on July 15. Sacks said Dobrovir telephoned him two days later with some second thoughts about the propriety of his remarks.

According to Sacks, Dobrovir said he was afraid that his comments would be misconstrued as an attempt to use the lawsuit as a "lever," that he was concerned that what he said was wrong and "could be very harmful," that he wanted to withdraw the statements, and that his clients were not responsible for what he had said.

Dobrovir said he hoped he and Sacks could resolve the matter "lawyer to lawyer," Sacks says. He says he told Dobrovir "I regretted that that was not possible."

Three days later, Sacks went to court and demanded that Dobrovir be taken off the union case.

Sacks said Dobrovir's offer supported Connerton's claim that the court suit against him was part of the dissident members' "plan to seize political control" of the 650,000-member union. Sacks said he would now have to call Dobrovir as a witness against his own clients. He told U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn that the Bar's Code of Professional Responsibility requires Dobrovir to step aside.

Meanwhile, Sacks says Dobrovir told him that as a result of their conversations, he felt he could not "ethically" file a response -- due by July 19 -- to Connerton's claim that the union members were using the case for political purposes and abusing the court process.

Sacks agreed to give Dobrovir unlimited time to get his answer in. Dobrovir, in a telephone interview, declined to comment on Sacks' account, except to say he "will file a response with the court.