Under District law, Mayor Marion Barry could remain in office after being convicted of or pleading guilty to a felony, lawyers say -- as long as he is not incarcerated.

"If one were convicted for a felony, but not incarcerated, under my interpretation of the statute that would not deny one the right to vote or to hold office," said William H. Lewis, general counsel to the D.C. Board of Elections. "It turns on incarceration."

Lewis said that under D.C. law, an elected official convicted of a misdemeanor clearly could remain eligible to hold office even if incarcerated.

Unlike some state laws, the D.C. code does not speak directly to the issue of eligibility for holding public office after conviction of a crime.

Instead, the code states that the mayor must be a "qualified elector" -- that is, qualified to vote. It stipulates that a person serving time for a felony loses the right to vote during incarceration but may become a qualified voter after completing the sentence.

Claude Bailey, an assistant corporation counsel, said that because the law deals with the issue in such an indirect fashion, the subject remains "a very cloudy, murky kind of area right now."

But Lewis, the Board of Election's legal adviser, said the answers are clear.

"Only incarceration for a felony could even raise the question of whether he {Barry} could hold office," Lewis said.

The District of Columbia is among the more liberal jurisdictions in allowing convicted felons to regain the right to vote after they have served their sentences, Lewis said.

Although states and municipalities vary widely, some have laws that directly address the question of eligibility to hold office after a conviction.

In Maryland, for instance, state law asserts that the governor must forfeit office after conviction for a felony. That provision came into play in 1977, when Gov. Marvin Mandel was convicted of political corruption charges.

After sentencing, Mandel immediately forfeited his office. The conviction was overturned last year.