DALLAS (AP) _ Dozens of lawyers are planning to defend a former pathologist's critics against what they called vindictive criminal indictments designed to cover up his wrongdoing.

The lawyers said Monday that 50 national legal groups are represented in the effort to defend an Atlanta attorney and two Lubbock police officers they believe were singled out in an effort to silence critics of former pathologist Ralph Erdmann.

Lubbock County District Attorney Travis Ware and Randall County District Attorney Randy Sherrod have said the indictments were legitimate and not part of a retaliatory effort on behalf of Erdmann, who had performed pathology services for law enforcement agencies throughout west Texas.

In September, Erdmann pleaded no contest to seven counts of falsifying autopsies. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation and ordered to surrender his medical license. He also had to repay $14,000 he charged for autopsies that were never performed.

Three of his critics have since been indicted, one on charges directly related to the Erdmann case and two on unrelated charges

In October, Atlanta attorney Millard Farmer was indicted for allegedly tampering with a witness in a Texas murder case.

The next week, Lubbock police Sgt. Bill Hubbard was charged with tampering with government witnesses and committing perjury involving searches in a case unrelated to Erdmann's.

In November, Officer Patrick J. Kelly was charged with five counts of aggravated perjury involving his earlier testimony that Erdmann faked toxicology evidence in a 1990 autopsy.

''There's something about all this that just doesn't pass the smell test,'' said Houston lawyer Richard ''Racehorse'' Haynes, who is one of the lawyers involved in helping the critics. ''I think it's a case where we need to get as many good lawyers as we can to go up there and get to the bottom of it.''

Although Erdmann once did work for authorities, they have said they don't believe he faked any autopsies involving criminal cases.

''He cut corners of cases he didn't think would come under the scrutiny of the authorities, like accidents and suicides,'' Texas Assistant Attorney General Shane Phelps said earlier. ''As far as we can tell, he did not compromise, or cut corners in any criminal cases.''

Erdmann was indicted last February after a deceased man's family reported he had listed the weight of the man's spleen on an autopsy report, although the man's spleen had been removed years before.