U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey has clearly indicated that he wants to keep The Washington Star publishing, and during the past three days he has not hesitated to use the enormous power and influence of the federal bench to keep the paper from closing down.
The judicial pressure succeeded last night in getting The Star to extend its deadline for the unions to ratify new contracts, and Andrew M. Kramer, The Star's lawyer, said in open court that agreement would not have been possible without Richey's help.
In effect, what Richey did was to add more heat to the already white-hot negotiations -- keeping a legal club over both sides to force more meaningful collective bargaining.
"As I've said before," Richey told both sides last night, "litigation can be resolved better by the participants than by the courts."
That's what he told Star publisher George W. Hoyt Thursday, when he ordered negotiators for The Star and for the two unions who still had not settled on new contracts -- theprinters and the pressmen -- to begin serious negotiations right in his jury room.
He offered himself to try to mediate any differences -- in much the same way that Lyndon B. Johnson locked union and management steel negotiators in the White House.
While this kind of activism in labor disputes is common for presidents, it is rare for a federal judge to take such a prominent role in negotiations.
In fact, Richey drew some criticism for delaying agreements with three unions -- two Teamsters locals and the mailers -- because negotiators were in his courtroom instead of ironing out last minute differences with federal mediators. Those agreements, though, were signed later.
Richey bent the rules of the federal court for yesterday's extraordinary hearing. With no court stenographers available, he borrowed Star reporters' tape recorders, not generally allowed in the federal courthouse, to keep a record of the hearing. Afterward, he ordered the tapes kept under seal.
As an indication of the importance he holds the role the press plays in America, Richey went out of his way in his courtroom to praise the way reporters have covered this issue and others before him. This, incidently, came after he had gently chided a reporter in a private conversation for comments he thought were either inaccurate or reflected badly on the court.
Richey, 55, was appointed to the federal court in 1971 by President Nixon. Shortly afterwards he was the judge sitting on the civil suit brought by the Democratic National Committee against the Committee to Reelect the President for damages arising from the Watergate burglary.
Richey had documents in the case under seal to protect the rights of people who may later face criminal trials.
While he worried about their rights to a fair trial, he also expressed public concern about the right of the public to know and about the first amendment rights of the press.