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Judge’s Retirement Moots Misconduct Charges

(CN) - A federal judge facing civil sexual-abuse claims escaped a misconduct complaint in the D.C. Circuit by retiring, court documents show.

Though the memorandum and order by the D.C. Circuit Judicial Council does not name the judge charged with misconduct, it does say the judge retired on March 16 from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

March 16 marked the same day the court's chief judge, Richard Roberts, announced his sudden retirement, citing unspecified health issues.

That same day, a woman filed a federal civil complaint in Utah that accuses Roberts of sexual abuse.

Adding to the Wednesday upheaval in Washington courts, President Barack Obama chose that day to nominate Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Acting as the D.C. Circuit chief in Garland's stead, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson signed the order Friday concluding the unspecified misconduct proceedings.

Council rules permit the chief to conclude complaints if "intervening events render some or all of the allegations moot or make remedial action impossible," a memorandum states.

The Judicial Council papers are dated Friday but published online Monday.

A member of the D.C. federal bench since 1998, Roberts became the court's chief judge in 2013. Court officials announced that U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell will succeed Roberts as chief judge.

Terry Mitchell, the plaintiff behind the Utah suit, claims Roberts took advantage of her in the 1980s trial when she was 16 and he was prosecuting white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.

Attorneys for Roberts called the accusations "categorically false." While they confirmed that Roberts had a sexual relationship with Mitchell, they said it was consensual and began after Franklin's trial ended.

Mitchell claimed in her March 16 lawsuit that she was "emotionally and physically isolated after the murders, leaving her extremely vulnerable to a predator who pretended to be on her side, like defendant Roberts."

Roberts, then 27, allegedly "had knowledge of and assessed Mitchell's vulnerabilities and exploited them in interacting with her and gaining her trust."

Mitchell claimed that Roberts convinced her "that his continued child sexual abuse was somehow her fault."

He allegedly said at times, "after placing Mitchell in front of a mirror, that he could not stop himself because of how attractive Mitchell was."

The complaint claimed Roberts routinely picked Mitchell up from her home or the courthouse during the Franklin trial and took her to dinner and his hotel room, where they had "intercourse nearly every day for several weeks."

Roberts, Mitchell added, would allegedly strip her in front of a mirror, "so he could watch himself having sex and watch himself being interviewed about the trial at the same time."

"It was all very creepy and disturbing to Mitchell," the lawsuit states.

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