Richard W. Roberts judge

Richard W. Roberts, U.S. District Judge, Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Teenage Witness

A Utah Woman, Terry Mitchell, 51, filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Chief Judge of Washington’s federal district court Richard W. Roberts sexually assaulted her repeatedly 35 years ago as a 16-year-old star witness in the trial of white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin. Coincidentally, Roberts sent a letter to the White House on the same day, retiring from the bench, citing health issues.

As CNN reports, Franklin killed two black joggers in Salt Lake City in 1980. Mitchell was with the victims and was wounded in the attack. Franklin, a serial killer, was responsible for over 22 killings between 1977 and 1980 in a warped attempt to start a racial war.

Roberts arranged a meeting with the key witness to discuss the case; he eventually took her to dinner before they ended up in his hotel room where they had sex. According to the lawsuit, Roberts allegedly continued to have sex with Mitchell before and during trial proceedings.

The lawsuit asserted that Roberts kept Mitchell quiet by telling her that if anyone found out they were having sex, Franklin would not be convicted. Mitchell’s lawyers argued that she had been sexually assaulted in the past, which made her vulnerable for Roberts to exploit and coerce.

Mitchell agreed to be named in the sexual assault case because she wanted the allegations made public and was tired of keeping it a secret. She said she tried to suppress the memories but they were rekindled in 2013 when Roberts sent her two emails that Franklin had been executed by lethal injection for the 1977 killing of Gerald Gordon outside a synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri. Franklin’s execution, which was scheduled for midnight, was delayed but finally carried out 6:07 a.m. after the U.S. Supreme Court denied multiple appeals for a stay. Franklin refused his last meal and gave no final statement.

An attorney for Roberts deemed the rape allegations “categorically false,” stating that Mitchell and Roberts had a consensual relationship. The attorney went on, saying, “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.”

The Utah Attorney’s Office released investigative findings supporting Mitchell’s claims. But they also said there was not enough evidence to “support a criminal prosecution,” because under the Utah laws of 1981, a 16-year-old was mature enough to consent to sexual relations.

However, investigations suggested a further examination of whether Roberts was privy to ethical violations for having an amorous affair with a witness he was questioning in a court room, without a full disclosure to the defense. Investigations into the allegations started in 2014, when an attorney for Mitchell brought it to the attention of the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

A Utah Republican and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz commented on the allegations, “Our initial review of the allegations has caused alarm and distress over their serious nature, the Utah Attorney General recently made the committee aware of credible evidence of misconduct by a U.S. District Court Judge.” He added that the committee would work with others in the Senate and House to ensure that justice is served.

But Utah prosecutors have decided not to file charges against Roberts at the behest of former federal judge and law professor Paul Cassell, who has reviewed the findings closely. His assessment is that Mitchell who was a 16-year-old at that time was mature enough to consent to sex, and any allegation that she was coerced and manipulated were not strong enough to hold in a court of law.

Cassell concluded that Roberts may not be guilty of rape allegations, but appears to have acted unethically, thereby violating the U.S. Department of Justice rules for legal conduct amidst other violations.

[Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM]