Some prominent black Baptist leaders, in a series of unusual public forums, have complained about the judicial practices of a black senior D.C. Superior Court judge who they say routinely discriminates against church groups represented by white lawyers.

The Rev. George C. Gilbert, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington, D.C., and Vicinity, told a gathering of trial lawyers last month that concern about the "prejudice practices" of Judge William S. Thompson had grown so great that several ministers involved in lawsuits felt pressured to replace their white lawyers with black lawyers "in an attempt to get some leverage" in Thompson's courtroom.

In another instance, the Rev. Harold E. Trammell, pastor of the Mount Jezreel Baptist Church on Riggs Road NE, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last month asking for Thompson's removal from a suit involving his church because the judge allegedly made repeated derogatory remarks about its white lawyer. According to the suit, the judge is alleged to have said at one point, "I am not going to let that 'honky lawyer' get another damn dime from the church."

In addition, Trammell said that when he complained to D.C. Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D.-Ward 8), chairwoman of the council's Judiciary Committee, she, too, chastised him for having a white lawyer and said the church was "going back to the colonial period," according to an affidavit attached to the lawsuit.

Thompson, 66, called the lawsuit "silly."

"I've been on the bench 19 years, and this is just some silly litigation," Thompson said yesterday. "I deny having any bias or prejudice, and you're free to ask any lawyer, black or white, in town. Why don't you ask the chief judge about it?"

Chief Judge Fred B. Ugast said he found it hard to believe that Thompson had made racially insensitive remarks. Thompson has presided over at least seven cases involving Baptist churches in the last several years, including two that are pending.

"Judge Thompson has a reputation around the city as a person who is well thought of," said Ugast. "Anybody who knows him knows that he would not make statements such as that."

Thompson was appointed to the bench in 1969 by President Nixon after serving as a member of the appointed D.C. Council. He is considered a godfather figure to scores of the city's black lawyers whom he helped find jobs when they were struggling lawyers.

In the U.S. District Court lawsuit, Trammell and other Mount Jezreel church leaders accuse Thompson of repeatedly pressuring them to fire their attorney, Blaine P. Friedlander, because he is white, and they say the judge attempted to delay the case until they hired a black lawyer.

Thompson began presiding in the Mount Jezreel case after Trammell and the other church members sued in 1981 to stop two other church members from filing repeated "nuisance suits." Since then, three other countersuits have been filed in the matter and the judge has ordered the church into receivership.

Trammell said in his affidavit that when he asked Thompson why the church should fire Friedlander, who had represented the church for more than 20 years and often without pay, the judge responded that "churches do not need {to} come down here with a white lawyer representing them anyway."

"There are many black lawyers around, and I can recommend some good ones to you, but we can't do anything till you fire Friedlander," Trammell quoted the judge as saying in one of their numerous off-the-cuff conversations that were held outside the presence of a court reporter.

When the church was unsuccessful in its attempts to persuade the judge to recuse himself, Trammell said, they unsuccessfully approached council member Rolark with their complaints.

Rolark could not be reached for comment.

"In the early years of my ministry . . . I marched {in the civil rights movement}, because growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I experienced the dehumanizing effects of racial prejudice and bigotry," said Trammell in his affidavit. " . . . I believed then, and believe just as strongly now, that racial discrimination and bigotry is evil whether expressed by blacks or whites."

Although judges are typically immune from suits involving their conduct on the bench, the lawsuit alleges that the judge is not protected because he has violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights as well as a number of canons of the judicial code of conduct, including failing to act with impartiality. The suit also is seeking to recover monetary damages.

The District government, which has been named as a party to the suit, argued in a motion to dismiss the suit July 10 that the judge is protected from liability under the doctrine of judicial immunity. The motion does not address whether the judge acknowledges making the remarks.

Gilbert, president of the 593-member ministers' association, said yesterday that he decided to appeal to the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan D.C. after comparing his experience in front of the judge with that of other Baptist ministers.

He said he eventually replaced a white lawyer he had hired to defend him in a suit with a black one for "strategic" reasons. Gilbert, then the pastor of Carolina Missionary Baptist Church on Morton Street NW, had been sued in 1982 by some church members who were attempting to oust him.

Gilbert said he eventually decided to settle the suit last year and resign as pastor because the case had dragged on for four years and his legal bills, including thousands of dollars owed to a special master appointed by the judge to be a fact finder, were becoming exorbitant. Gilbert is now the pastor at Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in Northwest.

"I felt terrible," Gilbert said about firing his first lawyer, whom he described as "probably one of the better lawyers in the Distsrict of Columbia when it comes to church matters." But he added, "I just felt I could not get any leverage in Judge Thompson's courtroom with that white lawyer."