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CRACKING A FRAME-UP IN DALLAS

If you have a tough legal problem, you might seek out an advocate like Bino Phillips, the fictional white-haired Dallas defense attorney invented by novelist A.W. Gray. Looking for muscle, street smarts or clever courtroom choreography? Six-foot-6 Bino would also fill that bill. And if it's a bright, brassy, hard-boiled crime thriller you're after, a novel starring Bino -- such as "In Defense of Judges" -- is surely your meat.

Bino (pronounced Bye-no), who usually represents his city's lowlifes, has an unusual client in this one: straight-arrow Judge Emmett Burns, who's being indicted on some flimsy grounds. Seems that Burns is resented by the Feds in the Texas city because Washington has won so few cases in his court. Happily abetting the frame-up are a passel of sleazy barristers and underworld types.

Bino, a one-time college basketball star, is a pleasure to follow as he presses, weaves and feints his way to justice, outmaneuvering an obnoxious U.S. prosecutor, a hostile federal jurist and assorted rogues dedicated to destroying his client's career.

Hard-edged, wisecracking dialogue and feisty characters, especially among the women, are wonderful bonuses.

In Defense of Judges, By A.W. Gray. Dutton. 324 pages, $18.95.

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