The D.C. legal community was rocked today with news that Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts has resigned after being accused of a sexual assault when he served as a prosecutor in a high-profile case 35 years ago. The alleged victim was a teenage witness who has not sued Roberts.
Roberts retired the day the lawsuit was filed and said that his resignation was based on medical advice for an unspecified disability.
Terry Mitchell, now 51, accuses Roberts of sexually abused her multiple times throughout the trial of white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin who was executed in 2003. Franklin killed two black joggers in Salt Lake City in 1980. Mitchell was wounded in the same attack.
Mitchell says that Roberts met her about the case then took her to dinner. She said that she was still traumatized by the attack and that Roberts took advantage of her and lured her into his hotel room. She alleges that she continued to abuse her over the next several weeks before and during the trial. She further alleges that she was kept silent about the sex because Roberts told her that any disclosure before or after the trial would result in Franklin’s conviction being tossed out.
The lawsuit involves a claim of suppressed memories that were recalled after Roberts contacted Mitchell in 2013 by email after Franklin’s execution for another killing in Missouri, according to court documents.
Roberts admits that he had a relationship and “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.”
That does not appear to be the view of the Utah attorney general who sent the result of his investigation to several congressional committees.
Notably, one claim that is not present in the case is statutory rape. At 16-year-old, Mitchell was considered old enough under state laws at the time to consent to sex. The allegations might have made for an interesting impeachment move since they occurred long before Roberts was made a judge. His resignation will forestall such an effort but the civil lawsuit will expose Roberts to discovery and a potential trial.