An 80-year-old former defense lawyer was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for embezzling more than $200,000 from an estate for which he was the legal guardian.

U.S. District Judge George H. Revercomb told Barney J. Keren, who in the last several decades has served as the court-appointed lawyer for hundreds of clients, that he was imposing the long sentence because of the long period of embezzlement and the large number of separate acts it entailed.

Keren, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, told Revercomb he was filled with "remorse and contrition" for his actions, which he said had caused his victims mental, physical and financial suffering and wrecked his own private life.

He said his actions had cost him the "love, respect and pride" of his wife, who was "disgraced by my transgressions," and who made him leave home.

Calling the embezzlement an "unpardonable sin for an attorney," Keren said he was unable to ask the court for leniency.

According to court documents, Keren depleted the estate of Priscilla Gordon Snyder over five years, shuffling the assets among 10 bank accounts as he cashed in her assets and transferred them to his own accounts.

The embezzlement came to light after Snyder's heirs questioned the slow distribution of her estate and persuaded the D.C. register of wills in 1984 to request an accounting. But, according to court documents, Keren continued to drain assets from the estate until no assets remained.

Keren, who has been disbarred, pleaded guilty June 11 to a single count of receiving stolen property in connection with his taking a check for $17,234.62 in June 1982.

In all, Keren took $200,163.22 from the estate, and there is a civil judgment against him in that amount, plus interest, according to court documents.

The entire D.C. Bar fund for victim compensation, $50,000, went to Snyders' heirs in an attempt to cover the losses caused by Keren, according to court documents.

In addition to the embezzlement from the Snyder estate, court documents show that Keren also took about $75,000 from three other clients. He misappropriated $20,000 from Mary Gainer, which apparently has been repaid, and still owes $37,000 to Clarence Dawes and $17,000 to Arnold Metzger, according to court documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Young had asked the court to order restitution, but Revercomb did not do so. He gave Keren, who court officials said will have to serve a "substantial portion of his sentence," 30 days to report to prison.