- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has submitted paperwork to retire within hours of a Utah woman filing a lawsuit accusing him of initiating a predatory sexual relationship with her more than three decades ago.

The lawsuit accuses Judge Richard W. Roberts, chief of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, of repeatedly raping Terry Mitchell when she was a 16-year-old witness in a 1981 federal murder trial held in Salt Lake City when he was a federal prosecutor.

Judge Roberts, who cited a debilitating illness in his retirement paperwork, has acknowledged that he and Ms. Mitchell had an intimate relationship. But he said it was “entirely consensual” and did not occur until after the conclusion of the trial, which resulted in the conviction of white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin.

“Roberts acknowledges that the relationship was indeed a bad lapse in judgment. However, the relationship did not occur until after the trial and had no bearing on the outcome of that trial,” read a statement from D.C. attorneys Reid Weingarten, Jason Weinstein and Brian Heberlig, who are representing the judge.

Judge Roberts was appointed to the federal bench in 1998 by President Bill Clinton and became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District in 2013.

But longtime Washingtonians may remember him as the assistant U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry in 1990 on charges of using crack cocaine.

This week’s abrupt end to his long, distinguished career is being characterized as the result of illness rather than the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the same day Ms. Mitchell filed her lawsuit, he submitted paperwork to resign.

In a letter sent to the White House, which was first obtained by the National Law Journal, Judge Roberts said he was resigning immediately based on medical advice and because he had become “permanently disabled” from performing his duties. An accompanying letter from U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson indicates that she had reviewed a medical report submitted by Judge Roberts and that “he suffers from a very serious health condition.”

Ms. Mitchell’s lawsuit asserts claims of multiple emotional and physical injuries, including the sexual abuse of a child, and seeks damages of up to $25 million.

The lawsuit states that Judge Roberts lured Ms. Mitchell to his hotel room to have sex with her before the trial started and then repeatedly while the trial was ongoing.

The lawsuit indicates that Ms. Mitchell previously had been raped and sexually abused, and that Judge Roberts had knowledge of that and exploited her emotional state to carry out the abuse. The lawsuit states that Judge Roberts at times threatened Ms. Mitchell by telling her that if anyone found out about their “affair,” that a mistrial could be declared in the Franklin case in which she was a witness.

Despite the admission by Judge Roberts that there had been a “relationship” between the two, the case faces difficulties.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office announced after the lawsuit was filed that it had investigated the claims but opted in 2015 not to prosecute Judge Roberts.

A 25-page report, which was accompanied by transcript of an interview with Ms. Mitchell, states that it did not appear that Judge Roberts broke any criminal laws because at the time individuals only needed to be 16 years old to consent to sexual contact. It did recommend that the Justice Department, Congress and the U.S. District Court of Utah be apprised of the findings so the agencies could look into any possible ethics violations.

The report goes on to state that no evidence was found “that raises any doubt” about the guilt of Franklin, who was executed in 2013.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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