A Baltimore District Court judge yesterday dismissed a criminal complaint against the chairman of the Howard County Human Rights Commission, clearing him of charges that he illegally released information about a possible employment discrimination action against the county's Circuit Court clerk.

Judge Martin Kircher ruled that the commission chairman, Rudolph C. Chapple, did not violate a Howard County confidentiality law barring commission members from discussing cases pending before them. The law did not apply to Chapple in this instance, Kircher said, because the local commission does not have juridiction to hear cases involving the clerk's office, which is a state agency.

C. Merritt Pumphrey, a Democrat who has held the elected office of court clerk in Howard since 1968, filed the complaint against Chapple in August after several news organizations published accounts of the nine-member commission's plans to ask a state agency to investigate Pumphrey's hiring practices.

The commission decided to take the action after it learned that Pumphrey had no blacks or minorities on his 33-member staff and did not advertise when jobs were available in his office. The Maryland Human Relations Commission has not decided whether to follow up on the commission's recommendation.

Chapple could have been sentenced to six months in prison and fined $1,000 if convicted.

Kircher was asked to preside over the case to avoid a conflict of interest for the Circuit Court's four judges. In Maryland, the ultimate supervisory authority over Circuit Court clerks lies with the court's judges.

Howard Circuit Court Administrative Judge Robert F. Fischer said yesterday that the lack of blacks and other minorities in Pumphrey's office "is something we should address . . . An affirmative action plan would be sensible."