A potentially nasty rift is developing between Del. David G. Brickley and the 160-member Prince William County Bar Association concerning the group's method of selecting judicial candidates and its influence with the General Assembly, which chooses state and local judges.

During the legislative session that opens next month, Prince William most likely will receive an additional General District judge to help with an increasing court caseload.

In the past, local legislators have generally followed the bar's recommendation for judicial posts, but this time it may be different.

Brickley (D-Prince William) has called the county bar's selection system a "popularity contest" and has criticized the association for offering only two candidates, a primary choice and an alternate.

"I think they {bar members} have broken faith by saying, 'Here is our name -- take it or leave it,' " Brickley said. "The decision for selecting General District judges resides with the General Assembly. I get along well with the bar, but I disagree strongly on this point. It's created, in my mind, a confrontational situation."

Bar members see it differently. Last spring Brickley wrote the bar, requesting that it submit at least three names, in no particular order, for any judicial opening.

The bar rejected that suggestion this month when it selected Richard B. Potter, a former bar association president, as its top candidate for the proposed General District judgeship and Charles Sievers as the alternate.

"What it boils down to is that the bar knows the candidates better than anyone else," said Robert Zelnick, who headed the selection committee. "We have the daily interaction. We get to know a lawyer's legal ability, character and temperament."

"I have trouble understanding why Mr. Brickley feels the way he does," Zelnick added. "I don't know whether he is not satisfied with the candidates or what."

Brickley said he has no problem with Potter or Sievers, both graduates of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary and both of whom have practiced in the county for 15 years. It is the "principle of the matter," Brickley said.

He noted that there are no blacks or women among the 10 judges of the 31st Judicial Circuit of Virginia, which comprises the Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts. In addition, there is only one judge from the eastern end of the county, he said.

"I think it is time to spread the wealth around. This county is maturing," Brickley said. "It is time to make sure that the members of the judgeship reflect the community as a whole."

Sievers and Potter were selected from a field of six, which included two women but no blacks, Zelnick said.

"The board simply voted on what it thought were the best candidates," Zelnick said. "I don't think there is any prejudice at all. I never hear any racist or sexist comments."

Twenty-six women and one black belong to the county bar, officials said.

"We're hoping that we can persuade the delegate that this is more than a popularity contest," Zelnick said. "Nobody wants to exacerbate the situation. Nobody wants to go to war."

Brickley, who will wield considerable influence over the selection process in the General Assembly, indicated he may seek candidates other than Potter and Sievers if the legislators approve the new judgeship.

The final list of names will be drawn up by local representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- using the bar's nominees and others if the legislators so choose. The Courts of Justice committees for the House of Delegates and the state Senate will then decide which candidates are qualified, and the majority party caucuses in both chambers will each submit a name from that list for a vote.

The Democrats are the majority party in the General Assembly. Among the local delegation, there are two Democrats: Brickley and Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Manassas).

Colgan has said he also would like to see a woman and a minority group member on the bench, but added that they should do well in a bar vote, preferably in the top three. He indicated he did not plan to look beyond the bar's recommendation of Potter or Sievers for the proposed bench seat, which would carry a six-year term.

"The results from the process have been pretty good," Colgan said. "This {selecting judges} is one of the most important things we do. These judges sometimes serve 30 years. It's got to be the right person and the most qualified."

Usually, the House and Senate caucuses are on the same wave length and come up with one name from the list of qualified candidates, and the nomination sails through. If not, the governor makes the decision or the vacancy goes unfilled.

Both Brickley and bar members indicated that they think the matter will have a pleasant resolution. But when asked how he would describe the relationship between Brickley and the bar, Zelnick said politely: "Right now I'd say a wait-and-see" relationship.