The 4th Circuit Judicial Council dropped its previous opposition yesterday to a proposal to create a southern division of the U.S. District Court for Maryland, a move that supporters believe will improve the plan's chances of being approved by Congress next year.

However, the council, consisting of four federal circuit judges and five district judges from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, reserved judgment on a bill introduced by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to create the new judicial outpost.

"It sounds like it's a step in the right direction," said Roger Titus, the president-elect of the Maryland State Bar Association, who favors the proposal.

Hoyer's bill would create two additional federal judgeships to hear cases in courtrooms in Prince George's County or Montgomery County to serve the fast-growing suburban Washington areas.

Last month, the board of governors of the Maryland State Bar Association endorsed the bill.

But federal judges sitting in Baltimore are unanimously opposed to the idea, arguing that it would be too costly and administratively cumbersome.

That opposition will make it difficult for proponents to win congressional approval of the bill next year, many agree, although yesterday's action by the judicial council may have slightly improved the odds.

Chief U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II of Baltimore dissented from the judicial council's action overturning its Oct. 6, 1986, vote against a proposal for a southern division.

In an interview last month, Harvey said that he and other judges in Baltimore believe the bill "comes at the wrong time, what with {federal} budget cuts everywhere."

Harvey and his colleagues contend that Maryland is too small to require a second judicial division -- although neighboring West Virginia has two divisions -- and that the trip for lawyers, litigants and jurors between suburban Washington and Baltimore is not unreasonable.

Maryland, with eight full-time federal judges and five part-time senior judges, is the only state within the federal judiciary's 4th Circuit without multiple districts or divisions.

The judicial council urged yesterday that Harvey and other judges in Baltimore adhere to a section of the U.S. Code providing that those judges periodically hold court in Prince George's County, at a site within five miles of Montgomery County.

Harvey said that he would "willingly comply" with that request.

James L. Thompson, president of the Montgomery County Bar Association, said that while the council's action was a "good first step," it fell far short of dealing with the problems facing lawyers and residents of the metropolitan area.