A FEDERAL appeals court last Tuesday upheld the 1989 conviction of television evangelist Jim Bakker on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. But that was not the news. For although the conviction was affirmed, the appellate court ordered that Mr. Bakker be resentenced. The trial judge, the court found, had taken meticulous care to see that the defendant received due process during the trial. But at the time of sentencing he abused his discretion by uttering the following remark: "{Mr. Bakker} had no thought whatever about his victims, and those of us who do have a religion are ridiculed as being saps {for} money-grubbing preachers or priests. ..." The appellate court ruled that the judge's own religion, or lack of it, was completely irrelevant for purposes of sentencing; yet the extraordinarily long prison term imposed may have been a reflection of the judge's own sense of religious propriety.

Meanwhile, in this city, attorneys for former mayor Marion Barry tried this week to reopen the record in his recent drug possession trial in order to introduce evidence of bias on the part of the judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson. Judge Jackson had made no comments in court showing personal bias, but four days after he sentenced Mr. Barry, he spoke at the Harvard Law School and indicated not only that he believed the former mayor was guilty of more than the single count on which he was convicted but that some jurors "had their own agenda" and had lied about their ability to be objective. The appellate court refused to grant Mr. Barry's request, but will hear arguments April 30 urging reversal on other grounds.

The two cases are different in important respects. Judge Robert Potter, who presided at the Bakker trial, cited his own views as a religious person during the sentencing hearing while the case was still under his jurisdiction. The 45-year sentence that he imposed was widely criticized as extremely harsh, and it is reasonable to infer that the remarks and the penalty were linked. Judge Jackson, on the other hand, spoke only after the Barry case had left his court. But his comments were still unusual and imprudent since, as is now apparent, they were used in an effort to undermine the conviction on appeal and they did not exactly work to assure Barry supporters in a deeply divided and angry city that their man had been regarded with impartiality by the bench.

After a case has been completed with no taint of personal bias on the part of the judge, there is nothing wrong with a candid discussion of the matter. Journalists, in fact, would be the first to encourage it. But Judge Potter invoked his own religious views at the time of sentencing, and we think it is right that his harsh penalty will be reconsidered. Judge Jackson was unwise to criticize jurors at any time and should have waited until all appeals had been concluded before sharing his thoughts on Mr. Barry's guilt or innocence. He may not have breached the same rules as Judge Potter, but his indiscretion was bound to have complicated the appeal.