When "Equal Justice" premiered last March, it got good reviews and pretty good ratings.

But what the show about a group of young district attorneys didn't get was a spot on ABC's fall schedule - due largely to the clout of Steven Bochco, whose "Cop Rock" made the lineup instead.Well, "Cop Rock" is gone - the victim of dreadful ratings - and "Equal Justice," a far superior program, returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 4. Sort of the flip-side of "L.A. Law," "Justice" is populated by young lawyers - most in their 20s - who are overworked and underpaid.

All the members of the large cast are back, including George Dicenzo, Debrah Farentino, Jane Kaczmarek, Kathleen Lloyd, Barry Miller, Joe Morton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cotter Smith, Jon Tenney and James Wilder. And the same creative team is behind the cameras.

But there will be a few changes this season.

"I think one of the things that the audience wanted to see more of . . . was stories about the personal lives of the characters," said executive producer Thomas Carter.

"I think we were case-heavy in the beginning of (last) season. Only toward the end did we begin to unfold some of the lives of the characters in a more personal way. And so we plan to do a lot of that."

Among the developments in store for the attorneys is the continuing romance between Jo Ann Harris (Parker) and Peter Bauer (Tenney) - a romance that isn't easy because she's a D.A. and he's a public defender.

There will also be new relationships for Michael James (Morton) and Linda Bauer (Kaczmarek). And the political ambitions of Gene Rogan (Smith) will be explored.

"I think . . . in any show what people keep coming back for week after week is that they like the characters," Carter said. "They're interested in them. They want to see them. We never intended to be purely a courtroom drama."

Which is not to say that "Equal Justice" will neglect the courtroom, either. The show will continue to deal with controversial issues.

Among the upcoming cases are the prosecution of a pregnant, crack-addicted woman; the prosecution of an AIDS-infected man who passed along the virus; and the question of whether a juvenile who's been convicted of murder should face the death penalty.

"We're also going to try to be really funny this year," Carter said - humor he found while spending time with real-life district attorneys.

"We really are going to try every week to give the audience something of the outrageous humor that we saw when we did our research," he said.

- ON THE COVER: Joe Morton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jon Tenney are among the cast members on ABC's "Equal Justice."