Former U.S. attorney general Benjamin R. Civiletti, who now practices law in Washington and Baltimore, has been appointed special legal counsel to the state House in its impeachment inquiry of state Chief Justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua.

Bevilacqua last year was given four months unpaid leave and a censure after negotiations with the state Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, which had investigated his associations with criminals.

On Jan. 8, the House received a resolution of impeachment saying the state's top judge had brought his office into "serious disrepute." The same day, Bevilacqua appeared in Washington before the President's Commission on Organized Crime to answer questions about his relationships with criminals.

State House leaders announced Civiletti's appointment at a news conference this week. Civiletti, 50, appeared with two law associates, one of whom, Robert A. Shelton, served as associate special counsel to the impeachment inquiry staff of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the 1974 impeachment proceedings against then-president Richard M. Nixon.

"I think this is going to be a challenge," Civiletti said. " . . . It will be a difficult matter. It's so rare, and because it involves an extraordinary use of power, it is very important to the public business and to the public interest."