The Virginia Attorney General's Office has agreed to pay $2,000 to settle a federal civil suit brought by a Prince William County man against a magistrate who punched him after he asked for the magistrate's help.

Steven Barker, 31, a Woodbridge mechanic, said yesterday that "money wasn't the object" of his suit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against Prince William Magistrate J.B. Polson. "The object was to let these people know they were not going to get away with that kind of behavior," Barker said of the April 17, 1989, incident in which Polson shouted at Barker and then struck him.

Bert L. Rohrer, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said the state settled the suit because "it's a relatively small dispute and it's not worth the time of the court or the attorneys involved. I think that's obvious by the amount of money it was settled for."

Barker had approached Polson in an effort to obtain an arrest warrant against the owner of a towing service who, he said, threatened him over the telephone. Polson refused to issue the warrant, which led to a shouting match outside the magistrates' Gar-Field station offices, according to police reports.

Barker said yesterday that Chief Magistrate Richard S. Sanborn failed to discipline Polson and that two police officers at the scene should have arrested Polson for assault.

Sanborn said Polson, who has been a magistrate for 10 years, was reprimanded by a letter placed in his personnel file for six months. Police officials said the officers did the right thing by separating the two men and controlling the situation.

Two police officers who witnessed the incident reported that Barker told Polson, "I'll be waiting for you when you get off, and I'll just follow you home." Polson responded, "Listen here you fat {expletive}, if you follow me home I'll beat your {expletive}," according to police reports.

One police officer said, "Magistrate Polson rushed toward Mr. Barker once again and struck him in the upper chest."

Sanborn wrote a letter 10 days after the incident, telling Police Chief C.T. Deane that the officers deserved "my highest praise" for diffusing the "highly volatile" dispute without arrests.

Sanborn said yesterday he still agreed with the assessment, saying, "There was a heated discussion, no question. But I'm not satisfied even now that there was any unlawful physical contact." Sanborn added that there are no legitimate grounds for a magistrate to verbally abuse or make physical contact with another person.

Deane said "there was clearly some kind of contact," but added that officers often break up fights without making arrests. Deane said there was no attempt to protect Polson because he is a magistrate.

Police told Barker that if he wished to press charges against Polson he should speak with the chief magistrate. Sanborn spoke with Barker the night of the assault but said Barker never showed up to meet him.