WASHINGTON D.C., March 17, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — The chief judge of Washington D.C.’s federal court abruptly retired Wednesday just hours after a Utah woman filed a $15 million civil lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting her in the early 1980s.
Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts cited unspecified health issues for his early retirement, according to the Washington Post.
Roberts announced his decision to step down just hours after Terry Mitchell of Utah filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing him of assaulting her when she was a 16-year-old eyewitness in a high-profile murder case Roberts prosecuted in Salt Lake City.
Through his lawyers, Roberts told the Washington Post that Mitchell, now 51, agreed to have an intimate, consensual relationship with him after the end of the trial in which she testified.
Under Utah laws in 1981, the then 16-year-old was old enough to consent to sexual relations.
Roberts’ attorneys, led by Reid Weingarten, told the Washington Post Mitchell’s allegations are “categorically false” and the now retired judge intends to “vigorously challenge” them in court.
In 2015, the Utah Attorney General’s office investigated Mitchell’s account of the alleged 1981 assault and concluded her allegations were not “strong enough to support a criminal prosecution.”
The Attorney General’s report did suggest Roberts “likely” should have told defense lawyers involved in the case he was prosecuting about his sexual relationship with a witness testifying in the murder case.
During the 1981 case, Roberts successfully prosecuted Joseph Paul Franklin who was accused of fatally shooting two black men who were jogging through Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park with two white women. Mitchell was one of those women.
Franklin was convicted on civil rights violations since it was proven the killings were racially motivated. He was sentenced to life in prison. The state of Missouri executed Franklin in 2013 after he was convicted there of murder.
Both Mitchell and Roberts acknowledge they have kept in contact by phone and email over the past 35 years. Mitchell’s lawsuit suggests it was recent correspondence with Roberts that triggered memories of the alleged abuse.