THE ACQUITTALS in Philadelphia of Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. and Joseph P. Yeldell do more than clear two prominent local figures of bribery and conspiracy charges after what surely have been personally difficult years for them. The verdicts also wrap up an unpleasant chapter in the history of the Walter Washington administration, in which the mayor's loyalty to a top aide cost both officials politically, above and beyond the trials.

Mr. Yeldell's fortunes had taken a turn for the worse long before any of the details of his financial relationship to Mr. Antonelli came to light. It was this overall record -- Mr. Yeldell's unfortunate directorship of the city's Department of Human Resources -- that became a fundamental weakness in the mayor's administration. That, rather than any criminal prosecution of Mr. Yeldell, was what generated serious concern and criticism in the community. At issue was the attitude (cynical) of a huge and important city agency toward the heavy public responsibility entrusted to it.

This responsibility now rests with a different administration -- and therein lies a serious question about any epilogue to the Yeldell years in city hall. Mr. Yeldell is entitled to return to work in the District government, at his previous GS18 level, though not necessarily to the job he last held at No. 3 man in the executive branch. How this delicate matter is resolved will be up to Mayor Barry and Mr. Yeldell. And anyone who wants it to work out best for both parties, as well as the city government, must hope that -- as was done for other top officials of the last administration -- the mayor will find a suitable way to negotiate an amicable settlement that will not impede his authority to govern with a cabinet solely of his choosing. Mr. Yeldell was acquitted. But his dismal record as a public official remains unchanged.