Richard S. Salzman, a retired associate judge of D.C. Superior Court, died June 30 of complications of autoimmune hepatitis at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 72.
He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 for a 15-year term and retired in 1996.
Judge Salzman frequently urged the lawyers before him to try to settle their clients' differences without requiring a judgment of the court. Such was the case in 1994 when fired NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis filed a lawsuit against the civil rights organization seeking reinstatement.
Even as Judge Salzman ordered Chavis and the group's lawyers back into court, he pressed them to settle their differences privately.
"Lawsuits detract everyone from their regular business," the judge said during a September 1994 status hearing. "I wouldn't be offended if you solved this matter."
Three days before Judge Salzman had scheduled an October hearing that would determine whether Chavis should be reinstated, the suit was settled. The terms of the settlement, which did not include Chavis's rehiring, were not disclosed at the time.
Judge Salzman later established a mandatory referral of all civil cases filed in Superior Court to a mediation procedure before a trial date would be assigned.
Throughout his term, he didn't flinch from the tough decisions. In a case brought by D.C. police officers who had been discharged after alleged misconduct incidents, he ordered their reinstatement because the department failed to follow its own requirements for taking disciplinary action within 45 days.
He noted the hard choice a court faced when asked by the government to ignore its well-intentioned due process rules when dealing with aberrant behavior by its own law-enforcement personnel.
In another case, the judge ruled that the First Amendment protected a decision of the Washington Times to refuse to print a full-page ad for which a Ukrainian group in the United States had paid in full. He declined to issue an injunction to compel publication of the group's protest.
Judge Salzman, known for his sharp wit and intelligence on the bench, often engendered criticism from lawyers about his temperament. He, in turn, sometimes complained about their courtroom behavior.
"He occasionally confided to friends that the most difficult aspect of serving as a judge was the requirement to sit through irrelevant, tendentious or just plain boring presentations by counsel," said a friend, Peter Ehrenhaft.
Richard Stephen Salzman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was a high school classmate of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 1950, he entered Columbia University in New York on a Navy ROTC scholarship.
Following graduation and three years of active Navy duty, he completed Columbia Law School in 1959. His first position as a lawyer was in Washington, where he became a motions law clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
After a year, he entered private practice in New York, specializing in shipping law, but he soon returned to Washington to work in the appellate section of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice. He later served as assistant chief counsel of the Federal Highway Administration.
His first judicial role was as a member of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeals Panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, writing a number of the decisions in which the commission changed the direction of utilities regulation.
He worked with the American Inns of Court's mentoring program.
His wife, Lois Wallace Salzman, whom he married in 1958, died in 1999.
Survivors include two sons, John Salzman of North Bethesda and Andrew Salzman of Alexandria.