For political junkies, the best sideshow in Fairfax County this fall is the sheriff's race.

Normally a sedate contest to oversee the jail, guard courtrooms and deliver summonses in the region's most populous county, this year's campaign has turned into a nasty and sensational race between the current two-term sheriff and a former deputy. The two have traded allegations ranging from mismanagement to lying.

Tensions began simmering last spring when Sheriff Carl R. Peed, 52, fired Stanley G. Barry, 41, then a deputy, rather than place him on administrative leave, when Barry announced his candidacy. But the rhetorical pot boiled over at a recent candidates' forum, when Peed accused Barry of hiding "ethical violations" and "incidents of misconduct" during his 19 years as a deputy.

Barry said he was stunned and offered to produce his personnel records.

Since that meeting, Peed has unleashed a barrage of personal attacks, alleging that Barry has deceived his superiors and been guilty of a range of misdeeds.

Barry, the son of Virginia Sen. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax), has countered the accusations, calling them "political trickery," and has accused the sheriff of distorting or ignoring facts in order to create the scent of an unsavory challenger.

The volleys have increased recently. Peed's most serious allegation, made in an interview, is that Barry was arrested and convicted of drunken driving in North Carolina in 1980. Such a conviction would have meant his firing, but Barry lied about the case to his superiors, Peed said.

Barry said he was convicted of reckless driving, not a fireable offense. He added that Peed, then the chief deputy, allowed him to stay on the force.

"If it was so important, why didn't they do anything then?" Barry asked. He said Peed "knew about it all along."

Either charge would have been a misdemeanor, and misdemeanor records from 1980 have been destroyed, according to a clerk in Dare County court.

In the recent interview, Peed also accused Barry of misleading his bosses about a speeding ticket he got in Tennessee two years ago. Barry acknowledges the ticket, but he said it was for going less than 20 miles per hour above the speed limit.

According to county policy, deputies are not required to report routine traffic infractions.

Peed also accused Barry of inappropriately altering the amount of a check--"a $440 check in Mississippi, given to him by our sheriff's association," an employee group, the sheriff said. The check had been made out for $410 to an organization sponsoring a shooting competition for deputies. When Barry arrived at the competition and found the registration fee was $30 more, Barry wrote the higher amount on the check. Peed terms this a matter of forgery and says Barry "failed to come back and tell the association he'd done that."

Barry called Peed's allegation "crossing over that line again." He said he did change the check, but noted on the bottom of the check he had done so, and told the association treasurer.

"He's saying 'forgery' when he knows that it was a non-incident," Barry added.

Peed produced a letter from the association stating that Barry had not notified them of the change.

Peed also pointed out that Barry once held a federal firearms dealer's license. Barry said he got the license because he was a firearms instructor for the county's sheriff's department and police academy, and he used the license to obtain guns only for law enforcement officers.

Barry said he expected his former boss to attack him, and for that reason earlier this year, he had his record expunged of three arrests that occurred before he joined the sheriff's department. But Barry acknowledges that having his own slate wiped clean was a mistake and has probably raised suspicion, without deflecting attacks by Peed.

The incidents included a drunk-driving conviction in 1975 when he was 18, a 1979 conviction for trespassing in a swimming pool and an arrest in 1977 on a stolen auto charge that was dismissed.

Barry now is struggling to return the discussion to the 455-person sheriff's department itself, and who should run it. He pointed out the jail addition is behind schedule and far over its $63 million budget, despite the fact that a commander and four deputies work full time to monitor construction.

Peed's response is that his department is not responsible for the added expense or the delays. The county's Division of Project Management oversees design and construction, he said, adding, "We're only the user agency."

Barry noted that the department's $35 million budget has more than tripled during Peed's term, although the jail population has risen only 9 percent. About 70 percent of the department budget goes toward personnel for the jail.

Peed says his department is spending more because of its additional duties and the fact that Fairfax County's population has increased by 110,000, or 13 percent, in the decade.

When Barry blamed Peed for the escape of two inmates in May, Peed acknowledged that it shouldn't have happened but added that it was the only escape in Fairfax in the past 10 years.

Barry also noted a recent federal lawsuit filed by three African American deputies alleging that Peed and his commanders have made a hostile environment for black employees, including designating one department bathroom for "whites only."

Peed fired two of the deputies, and the county's Civil Service Commission ordered them reinstated.

Peed said he was "confident that they [the deputies] are not going to have a case" in federal court, and he said that the Civil Service Commission often makes questionable reinstatements.

The department has not lost a lawsuit under his tenure, he said.

CAPTION: Fairfax Sheriff Carl R. Peed says his opponent lied about being arrested.

CAPTION: Opponent Stanley G. Barry accuses sheriff of "political trickery"