MURDER IS WORSE than burglary, and treason is more serious than income tax evasion. But even among white-collar crimes there are degrees of gravity. Surely bribery and conspiracy to corrupt the judicial process are offenses of a far greater magnitude than other nonviolent crimes. When the guilty party is himself an honored officer of the court, the severity of the crime is magnified.

Such is the case of William A. Borders Jr., a Washington attorney who was convicted this week by an Atlanta jury of four counts of bribery and conspiracy carrying penalties of up to 20 years in jail and fines of $40,000. The jury found that Mr. Borders had accepted bribes from an FBI agent posing as a convicted rackeeter. In exchange, Mr. Borders was to intervene with federal Judge Alcee Hastings in Miami to secure the return of $845,000 in fines and a reduction of the sentence the judge had imposed on the racketeer. Judge Hastings is the first sitting federal judge in history to be indicted for crimes in connection with his office. His trial, which was separated from that of Mr. Borders, is expected to begin in Miami soon.

Mr. Borders' crime is of special importance to the community because he has betrayed the trust of so many. He had served as president of the National Bar Association during 1980, and, on the very day he was arrested, was to have been honored at a reception by his colleagues celebrating the completion of his term. He was appointed by President Carter to serve on the District of Columbia Judicial Nominating Commission, a prestigious body that recommends candidates for local judgeships. When President Reagan sought to replace him on this commission, he fought the ouster and was successful in court.

Mr. Borders had many friends in this city, not only among his clients and in the legal world generally, but also friends from childhood. His former classmates at Spingarn High School held a fund raiser in his behalf after he was indicted. The tragedy here is that a man who has achieved much, been honored and trusted often and who has been supported by many friends has, in exchange, done something so terribly wrong.

Corrupting the courts undermines the very foundation of our society. Americans who are dissatisfied with officials in the executive and legislative branch of government can vote them out of office. But to preserve an independent judiciary, the framers of the Constitution gave judges life tenure. In exchange, the men and women holding this high office must conduct themselves in a manner that ensures the public they are both fair and incorruptible. A lawyer who destroys that trust for personal gain--in even a single case--has, in a special way, betrayed both his profession and his country.