D.C. Court of Appeals Judge William C. Pryor, a moderate jurist who steered clear of the acrimony that divided the city's highest court in the past, was selected chief judge of the court yesterday by the D.C. Judicial Nominations Commission.

Pryor, 52, who formerly served as an assistant U.S. attorney here and was appointed to the appeals court by President Carter in 1979, replaces Theodore R. Newman Jr., whose flamboyant style and differences with some of the court's judges led to controversy.

Pryor's selection for a four-year term as chief judge was seen by court observers as an act of temperance on the part of the nominations commission.

Pryor, who will receive an annual salary of $72,860, or $500 more than his colleagues, will be responsible for numerous administrative functions on the nine-member court and will act as the court's chief spokesman. He also will head the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration, a group composed of judges from the appeals bench and the lower trial court that sets policy for the city's judicial system.

His leadership role, however, does not extend to the opinion-making area of the appeals court, where each judge acts with equal authority.

Pryor's appointment comes as the court is faced with an increasing number of cases. He also inherits a debate over whether the city should have an intermediate appeals court, as some other jurisdictions do.

Pryor could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A graduate of Dartmouth College who received his law degree from Georgetown University, Pryor was appointed by President Johnson in 1968 to the D.C. Court of General Sessions, now Superior Court.

In 1980, a year after his appointment to the appeals court, a controversy erupted when four judges challenged Newman's rule and asked that he not be reappointed. Pryor played no role in the dispute and three of the dissenting judges have since left the court.

Those close to the court said Pryor has consistently steered a conservative path away from the court's various factions and infighting. They described him as less opinionated than some of the court's judges and often more willing to listen to both sides of an issue.