A federal judge in Sherman, Texas, has dismissed on a technicality charges against two Texans and their former lawyer that they had illegally conspired to sell priceless medieval treasures from the cathedral in Quedlinburg, Germany. The artworks had been stolen in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

Judge Paul N. Brown agreed with defense lawyers that the government prosecutor had exceeded an extension of the five-year statute of limitations by several months, and he therefore canceled the trial that was scheduled to begin on Nov. 4 in Federal District Court in Sherman.As a result, Jack Meador, 77, of Whitewright, and Jane Meador Cook, 63, of Mesquite, will not face charges that could have brought them sentences as long as 10 years and fines as high as $250,000. They are the brother and sister of Joe Tom Meador, who, as an Army lieutenant, stole the gold-, silver- and gem-studded treasures from a cave outside Quedlinburg, where they had been hidden by the Nazis.

John Torigian, 43, the Meadors' former lawyer, will not face charges either. Torigian carried the treasures back and forth across the United States and throughout Europe seeking a buyer until he sold them in 1990 to a pair of European art dealers who in turn sold them to Germany. The Meadors were paid $2.75 million for the treasures.

"The prosecutor screwed up," said Dick DeGuerin, the lawyer representing Torigian, while maintaining his client's innocence.

Carol K. Johnson, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, refused to discuss the case, other than to suggest the possibility of an appeal. "We're going to take a look at this," she said, "see what our options are, and then decide how we proceed from here."

Jack Meador, whose brother died in 1980, well before the theft became widely known, said: "I'm glad it's over. It never should have been started in the first place."

The dismissal of charges against the three could be the final chapter in the Quedlinburg art theft case, which began in June 1990 when Joe Tom Meador was identified in the New York Times as the thief.

The Meadors still face the possibility of an estate tax liability estimated at nearly $50 million, including penalties and interest. Donald Lan, a tax lawyer who is handling the case for them, said he expected the government to issue a notice of deficiency, which he would then contest in tax court.

Constance Lowenthal, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research, which monitors stolen art, said: "A successful prosecution of this case would send a strong message to others in the United States who may have wrongfully taken things during the Second World War. But since it appears to have been dismissed on a technicality, there is no message either way."