Federal judge resigns after lawsuit alleges that he raped a teenaged witness while a prosecutor

Richard Roberts, the Chief Judge of the US District Court in DC, resigned earlier this week citing unspecified health reasons, shortly after a lawsuit was filed accusing him of rape. Allegedly, as a 27-year-old prosecutor handling a murder case in Utah against a white supremacist, he coerced the primary witness, a woman who was then 16, into an ongoing sexual relationship. The judge admits to the relationship but says it was consensual and that any sexual activity took place after she testified. She allegedly has some recorded conversations that corroborate coercion. Even best case, this looks remarkably unethical.

The woman filing the lawsuit says that he intimidated her into silence by telling her that the murder defendant’s conviction would be overturned if she told anyone what had happened. Insidiously, this is almost certainly true. That defendant was later convicted of other murders and executed. Apparently, the judge contacted this woman after the execution, and that prompted her to come forward. She initially approached the Utah Attorney General’s office, which retained a retired federal judge to review her allegations. That judge found the allegations credible, and the Utah AG shared them with various federal authorities.

If I understand correctly, another judge signed off on his resignation being for genuine health reasons. By resigning for disability, Roberts keeps a lifetime pension equivalent to his full salary, and he cannot be disciplined by the judiciary. I believe that Congress can still seek to impeach him, in order to cut off his pension.

Jesus Christ. I am not sure about the statute of limitations tolling provision alleged in the complaint - generally those only apply if the defendant is actively avoid service, right? - but assuming it’s even true that he had consensual sex with Mitchell I hope he is impeached and disbarred.

A little bit ago this guy was talked about in nice terms. And he works right alongside Judge Garland who Obama has just nominated to the Supremes.

I can just see the CT nutters’ eyeballs making crazy circles as they prepare their theories for [del]publication[/del] spewing forth.

Let’s hope nothing else happens to anyone else on the DC Circuit bench. If there’s one thing CTer’s can’t handle, it’s a coincidence. Or “coincidence” as they tend to spell it.

There’s a “five dollar” foot long joke in here somewhere.

Garland is the Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Circuit, which is the federal appeals court for DC. Roberts is the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which is the DC trial court. So they probably don’t see very much of each other at work, although their chambers are in the same building.

Congress could probably have done a better job of naming the DC courts to avoid this sort of confusion.

I wonder if this will encourage other women with more recent claims to come forward. Someone who could be this reckless once may well have done so on multiple occasions.

Agreed. Let the story get more play and let’s see who steps up.

Thank you. I had an inkling they were with different organizations but was too lazy to look up the right details in my haste to be the first to suggest a CT-worthy connection.

Yet another journalist succumbs to self-imposed deadline pressures to get the scoop & gets it wrong. :slight_smile:

To play devil’s advocate, what are the legal issues of retroactively impeaching Roberts from his judicial office for a crime he committed prior to assuming that office? Is the argument essentially “If we had known you had committed this crime, we never would have made you a judge” or “If we had known you had committed this crime, we would have fired you”? The reason I’m wondering is because do you retroactively impeach him back to his appointment in 1998 or to his resignation in 2016? If you can take away his pension, can you also make him pay back the salary he received? Does it matter if you argue the resignation was connected to the accusation? What if Roberts had resigned five years ago when this crime was still secret?

None. Impeachment is a political question, for which there are no guarantees of due process or ex post facto concerns.

One point to make: the age of consent in Utah in 1981 would make the sexual acts, if consensual, legal. Obviously, she alleges coercion, which would make them illegal. But if his version is to be believed, there is no criminal liability.

Of course, as I just said, Congress is free to impeach him for being an idiot.

But as a practical matter, are there precedents for retroactively impeaching somebody for a crime they committed long before assuming the office they’re being impeached for?

I can see the logic of impeaching somebody who’s currently holding office as a means of removing them from that office. It’s a reasonable argument to say their old crime makes it impossible to carry out the duties of the office. But that’s moot in this case; the offender has already removed himself from office.

Now that Roberts has resigned, the only effect of this impeachment will be to cut off his pension. Looking at the issue dispassionately, I can see the argument that Roberts earned that pension by working as a judge for eighteen years. A crime he committed seventeen years before becoming a judge doesn’t invalidate the work he did. If you want to argue otherwise and say the crime does invalidate his work as a judge, then why not require him to return the salary he received all those years?

I’d suggest those questions turn mostly on the facts of the federal government’s HR & personel rules & regulations.

In my work as a union rep involved in workplace “justice” we also have a concept: “you can’t unscramble the egg”. The plain meaning being that you can’t turn back the clock and restore the complete prior situation with no wrinkles in time. In Robert’s case, you can’t undo all the decisions he made, all the work he put in, all the convictions or acquittals he produced. And certainly not give back the years of incarceration those verdicts produced. Nor, as a practical matter, can he disgorge his lifetime W-2 earnings.

So we all (on all sides of the controversy) have to intellectually admit from the outset that we’re starting from where we are today and are essentially in damage limiting mode, trying to identify what we want to stop happening going forward, and making some reasonable accommodation with and / or compensation for the *immediate *past, not the complete past.

As you say, the fact he resigned removed the need to fire him. OPM will have rules on when pensions are earned and on under what circumstances they can be forfeited. Whether those rules amount to justice in this case is a different (and ultimately moot) question.

But I’ll be damned if I can find it.

that doesn’t really seem right. Perhaps we ignore the impeachment/pension thing and the alleged victim can just sue him in civil court for her alleged pain and suffering? that would serve justice without opening this can of worms. If she wins, she can get a big cut of his pension; if not, oh well.

Keep in mind that his misconduct was not only potentially criminal toward the young woman but also a miscarriage of justice toward the trial of the defendant in that case. If another incident emerges where he compromised a witness, especially one where he was the judge, then any number of other defendants may start raising doubts, either through formal challenges or just in the press. His administration of the criminal process could be called into question on a scale beyond this one case. Even if purely retroactive, impeachment seems justified to me.

FWIW - some states don’t allow pensions to be taken in civil actions. I only know this aa it was a huge issue in the OJ case, but everyone seemed to agree - at least in California - OJ didn’t have to give up a dime of his pension.

Semi related hypothetical: If a judge knowingly allows a case to continue when he should have declared a mistrial, and the accused is sentenced to death and the penalty is carried out, what is the judge charged with? The judge knowingly allowed a man to be unjustly killed so would the charge be murder? Accessory to murder? Nothing?

Coincidentally, in Manitoba a Provincial Court Judge resigned after being charged with impaired driving last Sunday.