The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has formally charged James W. Baldwin, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, with violating the city's conflict of interest code by using city stationery to recruit students for a private university.

At the time Baldwin did the alleged recruiting, he was in line to become a consultant to the school - Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - and culd have been paid up to $500 a month to supervise instruction of those he helped recruit, according to Nova officials.

City law prohibits public officials from using their positions to reap financial gains in addition to their established salaries, Baldwin's salary at the time in 1976 was about $36,000 a year. If the board find Baldwin guilty, he could be assessed a civil penalty of up to $50 for each of an estimated 50 recruitment letters that were mailed out.

Baldwin refused to comment yesterday on the charge. A spokesman for Mayor Walter E. Washington, who appointed Baldwin in 1969 to head the office that investigates and conciliates complaints of discrimination, said the mayor had no comment because the matter is still under consideration by the board.

Baldwin, a member of the mayor's cabinet, is the first ranking member of Washington's administration to be formally charged under the city's conflict interest code that was enacted Aug. 14, 1974.

The board's charges against Baldwin are linked to an acknowledgement by Baldwin that he used city stationery to inform other city officials about the Nova University course, completion of which could lead to a doctorate of public administration degree.

In March 2 letter to Mayor Washington, Baldwin wrote, "The use of District of Columbia government stationery was done to inform public officials of the job-related program that was available to assist them and their agencies in improving both efficiency and effectiveness of their offices.

"In addition, the letters were directed to fellow government employees who could benefit themselves and their agencies by participating in this valuable job-related program. During the time the letters were sent out, I was not in the employment of the university and did not receive any remuneration for my activities."

Samuel Humes, director of graduate studies at Nova, said that Baldwin had not actually been appointed director at the time, but was "in line" to get the position if the cluster were established. After news stories appeared in early February citing Baldwin's use of city stationary and raising questions about the degree Baldwin had received from the school last summer, Baldwin asked not to be considered for the position, Humes said.

The university is investigating whether it should revoke Baldwin's degree because of allegations that Baldwin plaglarized a substantial portion of one course paper he submitted. A university lawyer has recommended revocation, but the school has delayed action until after an April 22 meeting at which Baldwin is to give his side of the story.

The undated recruitment letter was sent out by Baldwin late last year. A copy of it has been obtained by The Washington Post. The letter informed its readers that Baldwin had been appointed a "cluster director" for Nova in the city. A "cluster" is a group of students in a non-campus area who jointly work towards degrees under the director's supervision.

Baldwin's letter told the readers about the scope and cost of the program. "As an alumnus of the program, I have found the training invaluable in executing my administrative functions," he wrote.

On Jan. 25 of this year, Baldwin sent out a memorandum under city letterhead from "James W. Baldwin, D.P.A., Cluster Director" to all "prospective participants, Nova University graduate program in public administration." The memo said that the beginning of the program would be delayed because not enough students had signed up.

Nova's Humes said that Baldwin could have received university stationery if he had asked for it. Although he was not a cluster director at the time, Humes said, Baldwin did not act improperly by using the title in his recruitment mailings.

"He was anticipating and I think there are other ways he could have phrased it. Tha appointment hadn't been made. He was anticipating being hired. But my impression is he is not guilty of misleading," Humes said. Baldwim has never been paid by the university for his activities, Humes added.

Shortly after news reports appeared about Baldwin's activities in relation to the school, Mayor Washington ordered City Administrator Julian Dugas to determine if in addition to irregular stationery use, Baldwin had improperly used city employees to do homework assignments as alleged in newspaper reports.

Dugas, who certified some of Baldwin's Nova course assignment papers as "work-related," asked for a report from Baldsin. A spokesman for the mayor said yesterday that Dugas is still waiting for a response that would satisfy the questions Dugas asked.

"To my knowledge, that report has still not been submitted," spokesman Sam Eastman said. Eastman would not specify what questions Dugas asked Baldwin.

He said Baldwin's March 2 letter was "not accepted" as answering those questions.

The board's action charging Baldwin under the conflict of interest statute came only days after it had found former City Councilmember James Coates, a Democrat who used to represent ward eight, guilty of a similar violation and fined him $100.

On April 7, the board said Coates had distributed material for a 1976 write-in re-election campaign on paper that bore the seal and letterhjead of the D.C. City Council. "On Nov. 2nd, give me your vote and heart," the letter reads.

In 1975, School Board member John E. Warren was fined $590 for using school funds to mail out a report to constituents that also announced he was running for re-election.

The action against Baldwin comes at a time when the Human Rights Office has more than 500 cases pending, and two of the largest monetary awards made on the basis of OHR investigations have been reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals.