Lawyers in two major divisions of the Justice Department have decided they want to try to organize a union, much to the dismay of top department officials. Lawyers in the Antitrust Division have been pushing for a union about a year, and attorneys in the the Civil Rights Division have been circulating an organizing petition for the past several weeks.

Jim Spellane, director of research for the National Treasury Employes Union, with which the lawyers are trying to affiliate, said the Civil Rights Division lawyers have collected the required number of signatures, and their petition was submitted to the Federal Labor Relations Authority last week.

Antitrust Division attorneys collected their signatures several months ago, but the department has refused to recognize the division as a bargaining unit, arguing that the only acceptable one would be the entire department. The matter was the subject of eight days of hearings in December and January before the FLRA, and a decision is expected soon.

Department sources say that both unionization attempts grew out of dissatisfaction in the ranks with the way the divisions were being run.

In the Antitrust Division, lawyers are said to be angry about possible favoritism in a new merit pay system and past efforts by the department to downgrade certain positions.

And in the Civil Rights Division, it is not the first time disgruntled lawyers have been prompted to circulate a petition.

Last year, more than half the lawyers signed a letter to Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, criticizing the administration's decision to revoke a policy that barred tax exemptions for schools that do not admit blacks.

In another petition, civil rights lawyers complained about a memorandum written by a former aide to Reynolds that asked him to "repudiate the racially offensive statements" in the document.

Reynolds has not commented on the unionization attempt.


William H. Webster, who completed his fifth year as director of the FBI this month, said recently that he has added terrorism to the FBI's list of top priorities, along with white-collar crime, organized crime and foreign counterintelligence.

"I have always said that a terrorist incident became the most important thing we had to contend with when it occurred or when it was about to occur if we knew about it," Webster said. But he said that making terrorism a top priority "clarified the issue, particularly in Congress," where several conservative senators have been demanding tougher action by the FBI.

Webster said, "We have managed to keep terrorists from getting any kind of foothold in this country." Last year, the FBI recorded 52 terrorist incidents in the United States, with the majority aimed at foreign nationals or foreign installations by ethnic-based groups with a grievance over some development abroad.


William Randolph Robie was sworn in this month as chief of the 51 immigration judges who serve at 23 locations around the country. Robie, 38, will head a new executive office for immigration review, which combines the functions of the federal immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Robie has been director of Justice's Office of Attorney Personnel Management for the past two years. . . . Carol McGrew Pavilack has been nominated by President Reagan for a six-year term on the U.S. Parole Commission. Pavilack has been a member of the Arizona Board of Pardons since 1978.