The Clinton administration and a former aide will not have to pay a $285,864 penalty for the way they described the makeup of Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care task force, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the White House and former top aide Ira Magaziner did not act in "bad faith," and should not have to pay the opposing side's legal bills.

The dispute concerns the membership and leadership of the 1992 task force headed by the first lady.

In a 1997 ruling in favor of three nonprofit medical and legal advocacy groups, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said the administration provided a "dishonest explanation" of the composition of the task force, whose health care plan Congress rejected in 1994.

Magaziner swore in a 1993 affidavit that "only federal government employees" were members of a group advising the task force, providing a legal basis for shielding its records from the public.

"We hold that the district court's findings of bad faith . . . are without clear and convincing evidentiary support and that the attorney's fees award therefore cannot be upheld insofar as it rests on bad faith," a three-judge panel of the appeals court found.

The appeals court sent the case back to Lamberth for reconsideration.