MORE THAN A MONTH ago, we recommended in this space that Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel temporarily transfer his complete powers as governor to Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III. At that time, however, the governor's wife Jeanne sought to minimize the gravity of his illness. She then took over as a sort of intermediary between the governor and his administration, with Lt. Gov. Lee being called in only now and then for brief signing duties. As we noted, it was a strained and totally unnecessary arrangement that placed at least some part of the responsibilites of state government leadership on someone whom the voters never elected, however devoted she may be.

Well, it's still not clear to the public just how ill Gov. Mandel is. But Mrs. Mandel isn't minimizing things anymore. She stated earlier this month that Gov. Mandel would "absolutely not" be ready to stand trial this week because he isn't recuperating fast enough. "As his wife, who is with him 24 hours a day, and as a layman," she said she concluded that he wouldn't be up to it. Then, on Friday, the governor underwent more physical examinations - but no report was issued.

So what began as a strained and unnecessary arrangement has now become a secretive and unacceptable way to run the state. There is no reason whatsover for Gov. and Mrs. Mandel to proceed in this fashion when the voters provided a perfectly sensible and compassionate way in the state constitution for the lieutenant governor to serve until the governor has recuperated. If it turns out that he is "absolutely not" ready to stand trial this week, there is absolutely no argument for his continuing to be phantom governor. For the sake of the speedy recovery that all of us wish him, Marvin Mandel should step aside.