Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Judiciary committee, has suggested that enactment of communications legislation passed recently by a House subcommittee could impair settlement or judicial-relief decisions in the government's massive antitrust suit against American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

In a letter Tuesday to Rep. Harley Staggers (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Rodino expressed in strong terms his fears that the legislation could mar the government's ability to seek remedies in the AT&T suit. "This is clearly going to have an impact on the legislation," one House source said.

The restructuring of the Bell System proposed in the legislation "will have a dramatic effect on the bargaining positions of the parties in the pending litigation, perhaps impairing the chances of settlement, or drastically altering the terms of a settlement that could be attained," Rodino wrote.

"Moreover, a judge will likely be deterred from imposing the structural remedies that the Congress has itself failed to effect in this major legislation," Rodino said.

Although Rodino noted that a "savings clause" section of the legislation that he and the Justice Department had recommended would protect the antitrust case, he also said the bill "will necessarily impact" on the case, which is scheduled to go to trial here this fall.

The Rodino letter came to light yesterday just as the House Commerce Committee was scheduled to take up the communications legislation. But only eight of the 42 panel members attended the session yesterday, and it had to be cancelled. House rules require that a third, or 14 members, of the committee have to be present for it to act. Rodino said the Commerce Committee also might want to consider adding language to the legislation that would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to monitor the restructured telecommunications industry. Such a provision is contained in a bill before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Rodino did not ask formally for a slice of the jurisdiction over the bill but did offer the expertise of the Judiciary Committee in developing a bill.

Just last week, three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked for an opportunity to review the bill before the Senate Commerce Committee, raising similar antitrust concerns about the legislation. Three sponsors of the legislation -- including Commerce Chairman Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) -- this week responded, saying they would be willing to "draw on the expertise" of the Senate Judiciary panel.