DC Judge Quits After Witness Accuses Him of 1981 Rape

Then-16-year-old was a witness in a case
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2016 1:23 PM CDT

The chief US district judge in Washington, DC, resigned abruptly on Wednesday, the same day a Utah woman filed a lawsuit accusing him of repeatedly raping her 35 years ago, NBC News reports. The lawsuit claims Richard Roberts was a civil rights lawyer in 1981 when he "intimidated, coerced, and manipulated" 16-year-old Terry Mitchell into having sex almost daily for weeks, according to the Washington Post. At the time, Roberts was a prosecutor in the trial of Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist serial killer who shot two black men while they were jogging with Mitchell and another woman. Mitchell was a witness in the trial. The lawsuit claims Roberts told Mitchell—vulnerable from her friends' deaths and past sexual assaults—that Franklin might not be convicted if she told anyone about their relationship, the AP reports.

Roberts cites health concerns as his reason for stepping down as DC's chief US district judge—a position he was appointed to in 1998 by Bill Clinton—and his lawyers call Mitchell's claims "categorically false." They say Roberts had a consensual relationship with Mitchell only after the trial was over, which they call "a bad lapse in judgment." The Utah Attorney General's office investigated Mitchell's claims and decided not to pursue criminal charges against Roberts as the state's age of consent was 16 in 1981. The lawsuit states Mitchell repressed all memory of Roberts allegedly raping her until an email from him in 2013, after Franklin was executed. Roberts' lawyers say Roberts and Mitchell have stayed on good terms in the decades since the trial, exchanging calls and emails that have "always been warm, caring, and friendly," making her claims "puzzling and disappointing." (More sexual assault stories.)

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