D.C. Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke Jr. has ordered all city employes to consult with his office before responding to any requests to appear before grand juries or answer questions from other authorities investigating the District government.

The order, which was issued in a memorandum Cooke released yesterday, also would require city employes to allow a government lawyer to accompany them to a grand jury appearance if they are subpoenaed to appear.

"The {city} attorney will be available for consultation prior to, during and after any investigative interview," the memorandum stated.

Cooke said the memorandum is an attempt to manage the numerous grand jury subpoenas and FBI interviews that have arisen from a federal investigation of District government contracting, and other probes by either local or federal authorities.

Lawyers familiar with municipal corruption probes criticized Cooke's order yesterday in response to questions about the memorandum, saying that the memorandum failed to make clear to city employes that they have the right to retain their own attorneys.

Employes may be required to inform the city that they have been subpoenaed to testify, said Lawrence E. Barcella, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice here, "but to require that they use a particular attorney, I'm not sure that is necessarily appropriate."

The memorandum, he said, "doesn't seem to leave the employe an alternative {to the corporation counsel}. What if the individual's interests and the interests of the city happen to be different? Who does the {city} attorney represent? . . . Obviously they represent the city . . . . If those interests are different then to require the employe to accept the counsel of the city's attorney would be creating a conflict" of interest.

Cooke rejected the criticisms of his order, saying, "We want to basically manage or have some sense of information . . . that comes out" of the government.

Cooke said that city employes have the right to hire their own attorneys and would be required to do so if they became the target of any investigation or are indicted.

"The interests of the government and the individual {at that point} diverge," he said. "We want the information to come out -- the individual may not."

Cooke, the city's chief attorney, said the order was necessary because the city has no established policy for employes served with subpoenas or confronted by law enforcement officials.

The memorandum "strongly encouraged" employes to refuse to be interviewed if approached by investigators either at home or outside normal working hours when a corporation counsel is not available for guidance.

Some employes "felt like they had been harassed by the FBI interviews when they were at home, in parking lots and things like that," Cooke said. "This memo should not be perceived to have a chilling effect."

Cooke said that the memo did not apply to any city employe who wants to volunteer confidential information to investigating authorities. He said his three-page memo stressed "at the beginning, in the middle and at the end" that the District government policy is to cooperate with any investigation of wrongdoing.

"What {employes} are looking for is a little support, a little guidance," Cooke said. "Part of what we do is put {investigations} in perspective, encourage their support. We don't want employes to feel intimidated."

One Justice Department official said the policy, while not unprecedented, "could present some problems because it is intimidating. You can come down hard on those employes. If they say certain things, you could fire them."

If the directive is a sweeping one that applies to all city employes, the official said, U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova "might want to challenge that."

DiGenova's office declined to comment on the memo yesterday.

Cooke said diGenova's office had agreed to cooperate with the city by trying to serve any future subpoenas to Cooke's office but that the FBI had not responded to a similar request that it notify the corporation counsel's office before interviewing city officials.

Russell T. Baker Jr., a former U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prosecutor in the case against Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, said, "Of course it's putting an obstacle in the path of investigators. That's the Barry administration fighting back. They're trying to monitor the investigation and see where it's going and to figure how much trouble they are in."

Staff writers Sharon LaFraniere, Nancy Lewis and Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.