The U.S. Court of Appeals here yesterday ordered an independent investigation of allegations that a "well-known labor leader" may have tried to influence a government official's decision to decertify the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

A sworn statement by Assistant Attorney General J. Paul McGrath, released by the court, said the Justice Department had investigated charges that the labor leader, who was not identified, may have tried to persuade Leon B. Applewhaite, a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, not to vote for revocation of the union's authority to bargain for the air controllers.

Applewhaite, who voted to decertify PATCO, has admitted having dinner with the unidentified labor leader, whom he described as a "business and social acquaintance of long standing," and has denied any attempt to influence his vote, McGrath's statement said.

An investigation by the Justice Department's criminal division concluded last November that no further action was warranted, McGrath said.

The three-judge appeals panel said yesterday, however, that "this shadow on the integrity of the administrative process cannot be summarily dismissed."

The panel ordered the FLRA to have an independent administrative law judge conduct hearings on the allegations and submit a report to the court by March 19.

In the meantime, the panel said, it will withhold any decision on the merits of PATCO's request that the FLRA decision to revoke PATCO's union status be overturned.

According to McGrath's statement, information about Applewhaite was brought to investigators by another FLRA board member, Henry B. Frazier III, who said Applewhaite had told him in advance about the dinner meeting planned with the labor leader.

Others who knew Applewhaite also told the FBI that he had mentioned to them his pre-vote discussion with the labor leader, the statement said.

Frazier told investigators that the day after the meeting, Applewhaite, who had been committed to revoking PATCO's union status, was "vacillating" as a result of his conversations with the labor leader, according to McGrath's statement.

Frazier told the FBI that Applewhaite "tentatively decided" to vote against decertification, allegedly because the labor leader "made it plain" that if he voted for revocation, Applewhaite would be unable to get a job in the labor field after leaving the FLRA, the statement said.

Applewhaite said his concern about how his vote would affect his future employment was "obvious," and he also denied Frazier's statement to the FBI that he had asked the administration about his chances for reappointment to the authority, McGrath's statement said.

According to McGrath, Frazier also claimed that Applewhaite discussed the case at a Republican fund-raiser in New York and was assured that if he alienated organized labor, he could find a job in private law practice in New York.

Applewhaite said the comment was an "offhand remark," McGrath said in his statement, and has insisted that his decision in the PATCO case "turned on his personal conviction" based on the merits of the case.