Suit accuses DC federal judge of coerced sex; he says retirement is due to disability

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The chief judge of the federal court in Washington, D.C., told the White House on Wednesday that he is retiring in a letter that didn’t mention allegations of coerced sex aired in a lawsuit filed the same day.

U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts attributed his retirement decision to a permanent disability, report the National Law Journal (sub. req.), the Salt Lake Tribune and the Washington Post. How Appealing links to additional coverage.

The suit claims that 35 years ago, when Roberts was a federal prosecutor, he coerced a 16-year-old witness to have sex and maintained a “predatory sexual relationship” with her. The girl, who was white and Latina, was a witness in a civil-rights case against a man accused of killing two black men who were jogging with her. The age of consent in Utah, where the alleged sex took place, was 16 at the time.

Lawyers for Roberts said in a statement that he had an “intimate relationship” with the plaintiff, but it didn’t begin until after the trial. “Contrary to the allegations,” the statement said, “this relationship was entirely consensual.” The statement said Roberts acknowledged the relationship “was indeed a bad lapse in judgment.”

The statement said contacts between the woman and Roberts over the years were “warm, caring and friendly, which makes these new, false allegations all the more puzzling and disappointing.”

An unidentified source told the National Law Journal that Mitchell had begun the process for certifying a disability before he learned of the plaintiff’s allegations in February. The source said the reason for retirement was a medical issue rather than the lawsuit.

The suit said Roberts exploited the girl’s psychological and emotional vulnerabilities, and kept up the relationship by telling her that there would be a mistrial if the sex acts were discovered. The plaintiff says she repressed all memory of the abuse until November 2013, when Roberts emailed her hours after the execution of the killer that stemmed from his conviction in a separate case.

The suit seeks damages for assault, battery, sexual abuse of a child, and infliction of emotional distress.

A review by the Utah Attorney General’s office and two judges found that Roberts could at most be charged with a class B misdemeanor under the laws then in effect, according to the Salt Lake Tribune story.

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