The dispute between the jury that convicted D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and the judge who sentenced him is, at one level, a matter of pots and kettles.

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson is convinced that the government's case was "overwhelming" on at least a dozen of the counts against Barry (including two felony counts of perjury), that the credibility of the defense witnesses was "thoroughly impeached" and that the jurors' refusal to convict their mayor except on a single count of cocaine possession reflected not a search for truth but "their own agendas."

In short, he believes -- and wants you to believe -- that the jurors who expressed reasonable doubt on the bulk of the charges against Barry were lying. But he also wants you to believe that his own certainty of the mayor's guilt on at least a dozen of the counts against him played no role in his decision to sentence Barry to six months in prison on the single count on which he was convicted.

I found it easier to accept the judge's explanation of the sentence at the time it was handed down than the elaboration he offered this week to Harvard Law students. In court, he insisted that he was guided by Barry's breach of the public trust and his failure to provide a proper model for youth. At Cambridge, he dwelt on his personal assessment of the mayor's guilt but contended that he was not motivated by any urge to correct for the jury's shortcomings.

His honor will forgive me, but I find the evidence of the jurors' lack of candor no more "overwhelming" than the evidence of his own.

As a matter of fact, I am as convinced as Jackson that at least some jurors had made up their minds to punish the prosecution for the FBI sting (which they saw as unfair, if not illegal, entrapment) and to send the mayor a signal of their displeasure at his behavior but to do what they could to keep him out of jail. But I am also convinced that Judge Jackson, who, after all, heard all the testimony and saw all the evidence, made up his mind not to let the jury get away with it.

It doesn't follow that I believe, as many Washingtonians obviously do, that Barry should now be rewarded politically for the harshness of his sentence, or even that the sentence was unduly harsh.

As for the first, if Barry's private behavior and his belatedly admitted cocaine addiction -- after denying publicly that he had ever even seen cocaine and telling schoolchildren that his mind was "too precious" to pollute it with the drugs to which he was in fact addicted -- were enough to disqualify him for public office, the judge's sentence and my doubts as to his candor do not make Barry suddenly a paragon worthy of election to the city council. I still hope he'll get out of politics, at least for a while, and get well.

As for the widely held contention that the sentence was unusually harsh, I've just been talking to a Washington lawyer who says it simply isn't true. "The media and the public have been focusing on the fact that most people convicted of simple possession don't get jail time," she said. "It's true, but what they don't tell you is that virtually all the people convicted in Superior Court on possession charges plead guilty. That's tremendously important."

She told of a client of hers who was charged with possession of "40 tabs of bam {Preludin} and a nickel bag" of marijuana. "He refused to plead guilty to the 40 tabs, which the police found on a nearby porch, and the prosecution wouldn't accept a plea on just the marijuana, which was found in his pocket, so we went to trial. Well we beat the 40 tabs, but he got six months for the marijuana.

"When I protested the harshness of the sentence, given the small amount of marijuana for which he was convicted, the judge told me, 'Your client put this court through a two-day trial.'

"Well, Barry, who refused to plead guilty, put the city through a two-month trial, and he still wants special consideration. He's like Charlie on the subway in the old Kingston Trio song. He didn't get off {by pleading guilty} when he could afford it, and when the conductor demanded one more nickel, he got caught. I may feel sorry for him as a fellow human being, but there was nothing unfair about that sentence, and the lawyers who work these kinds of cases every day know it."