A judge from the U.S. District Court in Washington was hit with a civil lawsuit the same day he retired over claims he allegedly assaulted a teenage witness in a high-profile case 35 years ago.
CBS News reports that Terry Mitchell, 51, claims Richard Roberts sexually abused her during the trial of White supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin, who killed two Black joggers in Salt Lake City back in 1981.
Mitchell, who wanted to be named publicly in the suit, said Roberts (who was a prosecutor at the time) wined and dined her when she was 16 years old and coerced her into having sex with him. Mitchell was a witness in the shooting and was advised not to tell anyone about the alleged assaults because it could prevent a conviction in the case. Roberts was 27 years old at the time.
The Utah native said she was reminded of the suppressed memory when Roberts reached out to her via email with updates on Franklin a few years ago. After contacting Deputy Utah District Attorney Spencer Austin with proof of the relationship last year, Austin failed to prosecute the 62-year-old.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Mitchell is seeking $15 million in damages. On the same day, Roberts sent his letter of retirement to the White House, citing health reasons. Lawyers for the former judge called the allegations “categorically false.”
Via CBS News:
D.C.-based lawyers with the firm Steptoe & Johnson said their client and Mitchell have stayed in touch since the trial.
“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 law firm said in a statement.
Mitchell was reportedly told her initial case wouldn’t be tried because the age of sexual consent in Utah at the time was 16. The DA also claimed the proof–transcripts of Roberts discussing the encounters during a phone call–wasn’t strong enough. Austin said if the case happened today, the circumstances would be different.
“If it had been a felony we could have filed and indeed we would have filed,” said Austin, adding that the AG’s office did everything possible to consider charges.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah also released a statement:
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. The matter dates back to 1981 when, as a DOJ prosecutor, the Judge is alleged to have engaged in inappropriate behavior with a 16-year-old female witness. We will work with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to determine next best steps to ensure justice is served.
According to The Huffington Post, Roberts might still face violations for breaking ethical rules by having sexual relations with a witness.