Never underestimate the power of car- insurance lawyers to cloud the minds of certain D.C. Council members. It's a small group of lawyers with a large budget for lobbying and for campaign contributions -- and it's back in action at city hall in yet another attempt to gut the city's no- fault auto insurance protections. Today a council committee will consider yet another hodge-podge of custom-tinkered revisions that turn out to be pocket- liners for the lawyers. Committee members with any serious concern about fair compensation for victims of automobile accidents should reject all attempts to tinker with the existing no-fault law.

Mayor Barry and council member John Ray are the architects of this latest legislative sabotage. Their slightly differing versions of how to wreck the no- fault protections essentially increase the role of lawyers -- whose fees come not from out of the sky but from the premiums that everybody pays. Mr. Barry and Mr. Ray would reinstate more of the old system of suit, countersuit, haggling and then settling for slow and all too often unfair compensation.

Sponsors of these damaging measures would have you believe that the failure of premiums to decrease or even hold steady is the fault of no-fault. But look instead at how much each premium dollar buys in full and efficient coverage instead of in lawyers' fees and other legal costs that can eat so much of what consumers spend on automobile insurance.

Maybe at least this time we'll all be spared the old misleading claim to the effect that everybody's better off letting auto insurance lawyers move in on behalf of "the right to sue." Baloney. Far more valuable is the right to quick and fair compensation within a set time limit. And the quick and fair thing for the council committee to do today is reject any attempt to change one of the best pieces of work that the council did after years and years of study and debate.