When Judge A. (Sleepy Joe) Mattingly got a notion recently that a first-time drug offender was a bad influence on his neighbors, he had a simple solution -- he banished him from St. Mary's County for three years.

When a man came before him who was convicted of assaulting his wife's lover, Mattingly was even harsher -- he told him not to set foot in the county for five years.

Up in La Plata, Judge Richard L. Clark has his own way of dispensing justice. Just the other day, he told a defendant that his fate would depend on whether the judge could land a paper clip in a nearby styrofoam cup. Fortunately for the defendant, he made the shot.

To an outsider, such methods might seem a little strange, but defendants who might otherwise go to prison do not complain and lawyers around the Leonardtown and La Plata courthouses are used to them. It is just a form of southern justice -- Southern Maryland justice, that is.

Defendant rights, activist lawyers and liberal court decisions have changed many courtrooms in the last 25 years, but in these parts a judge can do pretty much what he wants and the options for judge-shopping are limited.

Mattingly, 64, is St. Mary's lone circuit court judge, responsible for hearing major crimes and civil cases; Clark's docket as Charles County's only district court jurist is filled with petty offenses. What the two share is a philosophy that southern Maryland can do without the drug users, thieves and criminals produced by their neighbors to the north in Washington and Prince George's County.

"If I had my way," Clark, 37, thundered from the bench recently, "I'd close the border to keep you people from Prince George's out."

Clark's ambitions have led him to seek a seat on the Circuit Court. It is a rare four-way race -- Charles' first judicial election contest in memory -- in which two candidates openly attribute their running to Clark's courtroom behavior.

Lawyers in the two county seats have devised different strategies to shield their clients from the two judges. In La Plata, they demand jury trials before Circuit Judge George W. Bowling to escape Clark's apparent wrath. In Leonardtown, lawyers seize on an off-handed judicial remark or any pretrial publicity to request another circuit judge or a change of venue. Even so, Mattingly's reversal rate in criminal cases argued and briefed before Maryland's Court of Special Appeals in the last two terms is a stunning 85 percent.

"The law according to St. Mary's County is a little different than the law in the rest of the state of Maryland," said a Charles County lawyer who goes to Leonardtown as little as possible.

Mattingly's family first came to St. Mary's in 1665. In the tradition of public service, his farmer father served in the State Senate and as clerk of the court. Mattingly followed a similar path, serving as state senator, delegate, state's attorney before winning a 15 year term to the circuit court in 1972.

Life in La Plata and Leonardtown still seems to move at a slower pace. The sleepy courthouse -- where a small fraternity of lawyers regularly practices -- and the towns themselves belie the changes that threaten the old ways of Charles and St. Mary's.

La Plata, with its one main street, is only 40 miles from Washington and the signs of change are near. A few miles north, the "new town" of St. Charles attracts families from Prince George's whose breadwinners commute to and from government jobs in the District of Columbia. In nearby Waldorf, teen-agers hang out in the shoppoing centers as in any suburb.

If creeping suburbanization afflicts Charles, the outside world came to St. Mary's military dress. "In 19 and 41," says Mattingly, "the Naval Air Testing Station (in Lexington Park) tripled our population overnight. It had been 15,000 for years." Today, more than 40 percent of the county's 55,000 residents are military transients.

While Lexington Park is a camp town of motels, trailer parks and honky tonk hangouts, Leonardtown still resembles a picture postcard of another era, with its five and dime store, its village square and its auto saleswindow neon-signs advertising absolete models. But the old Rex movie theater alternates X-rated films with children's fare, the corner luncheonette sells sexually explicit magazines as well as homemade ham and the drug scene here, as elsewhere, has touched the families of prominent citizens.

Mattingly says drugs have been a problem in his own family, and eliminating their use in the county has been one of his main objectives. "I have tried to keep it to a minimum," he says, and banishment has been one of his weapons.

Ernest A. Loveless Jr., chief judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit encompassing Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, was surprised to learn of the practice. "Banishment from the realm? he said. "My understanding has been that banishment from the realm is unconstitutional."

Mattingly defends the practice.

"I think there was a court of appeals case which frowned upon it," he said, "but what does the Bible say? If the eye is scandalized, you pluck it out."

"I didn't like the idea at all because my family's here," said Skye Louier Pryor, 21, of Lexington Park, who pleaded guilty to possession of $10 each of PCP and marijuana and was fined $3,000 and banished for three years.

In another drug case, Mattingly ordered another first offender to attend church regularly and seek counsel from her minister. "Church and a prayer, I don't think, ever hurt anybody," the judge explained.

Mattingly's campaign to cleanse St. Mary's County sometimes backfires. In one case, the appeals court upheld a marijuana conviction but threw out a $3,000 fine Mattingly imposed to keep the financially strapped defendant from making parole.

Mattingly's impatience to try drug cases resulted in his removal from cases involving 38 defendants in 1978. During the pretrial phase, Mattingly had rebuffed a lawyer seeking to make a motion, as the rules allow. "I don't care," Mattingly said, according to court transcript. "I'm not paying attention to any rules."

The defense lawyers then paid an unprecedented visit to Chief Judge Loveless demanding Mattingly's removal. Prince George's Circuit Judge Vincent Femia was assigned the cases, most of which were dropped by the prosecutor or ended in suspended sentences or probation.

There are about 10 criminal adult jury trials a year here. In the last two years, the special appeals court has reversed Mattingly six times and upheld him once. The court found five reversible errors in one case alone.

"I do the best I can," says Mattingly. "Lets face it, a lot of the lawyers are experts in the field; 99 percent of them have cases in one line. They're experts firing at you and you have to answer them. You're sitting on the firing line."

His proudest achievement, he says, is his family of 12 children. He could point to nothing of similar importance in his judicial career. "No," he said, "I suppose I'm just an ordinary person."

Sometimes, in open court, Mattingly will read silently to himself from case jackets or presentence reports while everyone else waits. "We're not aghast because we're used to seeing it," said one lawyer, "but people in the audience, they don't know what's going on."

Other times, he will lean back in his chair, cock his head backward and close his eyes. They call him "Sleepy Joe," but Mattingly insists he never sleeps in court. The nickname, he says, stems from his college days. "I don't know, I'm sort of slow-moving, slow talking," he says.

"Good ol' Joe" is how Prince George's Judge Femia describes him, the down home judge who can be counted on to supply country-cured hams to order for his fellow jurists in the circuit.

He's an unabashed old-fashioned moralist and a romantic who suffers divorce cases and prefers uncontested adoptions to any other case because "there's so much-love and affection. Everyone leaves happy."

Few persons facing Judge Richard Clark in La Plata leave his courtroom happy. They're not supposed to, according to Clark who says, "I don't get mad at people in court, but sometimes I want them to think I am. People that commit petty crimes, they don't want to come before you."

Around La Plata, Clark is criticized not for his verdicts or sentences but for his sermons from the bench.

"Might as well stick a gun to your head and pull the trigger as to die the way you're dying," he told a derelict who came before him last October.

"Old man sitting down there shaking like a leaf, 'cause he got the DTs' nothing but an old drunk," Clark said, according to a court transcript. "Should've been in church Sunday morning. Probably hadn't been in church in 20 years. Shaking like a leaf down there. Hold out your hand like that," the judge said, showing him how.

"Whew, it's cold in here," the man said, shaking.

"Cold, my eye. You got the DTs," the judge said.

With that, Clark ruled the man was drinking in public view but on private property and therefore had committed no legally punishable offense. "And you're free to go," the judge added, "to continue drinking yourself to death."

T. Myron Lloyd, a boyhood friend now running against Clark in the circuit court race, characterized Clark's courtroom demeanor as trial by terror . . . His idea is just to scare the living hell out of everybody. You can't deal with adults as if they're children, completely subject to the judge's whim."

The judgments that follow the tongue-lashings are generally fair and often indistinguishable from those handed down by others, his critics concede. But Clark's courtroom behavior has haunted him.

If elected May 13, Clark promises to behave differently because the circuit court, he says, is "a completely different ball game."

St. Mary's County has a tradition of openly contested judgeships, but in most other parts of the state, including Charles, picking a judge usually is a quiet, private affair involving politicians and lawyers and ending with a gubernatorial appointment. The appointment then is ratified by the voters in an unconstested election.

When the new circuit seat was created for Charles last year, Clark's political ties made him the early odds-on favorite. However, his demeanor -- whether calculated court psycholgy or lack of judicial temperament -- cost him the approval of a selection panel he needed for the nod. The race was on.

"Our professional differences became so strong they affected our personal relationship," says Lloyd, who with Clark grew up in Hyattsville, attended the University of Maryland with him, clerked for the same judge and came to Charles County about the same time. Lloyd is godfather to Clark's two children and today still regularly represents clients before him with no discernible bias from the bench. But outside the courtroom, they barely speak to each other.

The turning point, Lloyd says, came last year in the case of an 18-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to the charge of driving while impaired by alcohol.

According to Lloyd's recollection, which Clark does not dispute, a courtroom friend of the defendant sought recognition and Clark said, "Well, what is this? Are we back in school? Sit down and shut up. I'd like to put you in jail."

Clark then told the defendant, "it gave me a great deal of pleasure to put your sister in jail. It's gonna give me a great deal of pleasure to put you in jail."

After the lecture, the judge inposed a $200 fine.

One measure of Clark's impact is the large increase in the number of defendants charged with petty crimes exercising their right under Maryland's two-tier court system to demand jury trials in circuit court.

In the last full year before Clark took office , only nine defendants did so. The number jumped to 111 in Clark's first year, and to 282 in the year ending last June 30.

The number now nearly equals the amount of new criminal cases that begin in circuit court, according to Robert G. Nalley, until recently the state's attorney. In February, Nalley received the interim appointment to the circuit seat and now is running as the incumbent.

"We found ourselves begging Prince George's judges to come down here and sit" to relieve the backlog, says Nalley, who also had to hire another secretary to handle the additional paper work.

In the community at large, Clark has many defenders among parents and teen-agers. "At one time, I thought the judge was an SOB," a mother from Marbury volunteered. She says her son had "straightened out his life. I owe it all to Judge Clark, and I don't even know the man." o

"I have made statements from the bench that people tend to take out of context and use against me," said the judge, a teddy bear-patterned tie showing beneath his forbidding black robe. "I have made my shares of mistakes, but I'm not quite the ogre a lot of people make me out to be."

Clark hopes the voters of Charles County understand.