By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington is being sued for alleged sexual abuse of a 16-year-old female trial witness decades ago, in a lawsuit filed the same day he retired.
Richard Roberts, who had been chief U.S. judge in the District of Columbia since 2013, maintained a "predatory sexual relationship" in 1981 when the girl was a witness in a case he prosecuted in Salt Lake City, the lawsuit filed in Utah's federal court on Wednesday said.
Roberts, 63, sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday saying he was retiring for health reasons. The suit is seeking at least $15 million in damages.
A 2015 investigation for the Utah attorney general's office found that Roberts had not committed a crime. Under state law at the time, the age of sexual consent was 16.
The woman filing the suit, now 51, was a witness to the 1980 shooting deaths of two black joggers in Salt Lake City. White supremacist Joseph Franklin was charged, and Roberts, then a Justice Department lawyer, prosecuted him for civil rights violations.
The lawsuit alleges that Roberts coerced the woman into having sex with him almost daily for several weeks and describes their relationship as "sexual abuse." Roberts left Utah after Franklin was convicted, it said.
"Roberts maintained the secrecy of his abuse by using intimidation, deception, artifice, and the coercive, victim-blaming threat" that a mistrial would result if the sexual relationship was discovered, the suit said.
Roberts' lawyers rejected the allegations. Roberts has called his relationship with the woman "a bad lapse in judgment," the defense team, headed by Washington attorney Reid Weingarten, said in a statement.
"However, the relationship did not occur until after the trial and had no bearing on the outcome of the trial," it said.
The Utah attorney general office's report said Roberts may have violated rules of ethics by having a sexual relationship with a witness. It included a transcript of a 2014 telephone conversation that Roberts had with the woman in which their sexual relationship is mentioned.
The woman had made an audio recording of the call. Reuters policy is not to name the victims of sexual crimes.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, head of the House Oversight Committee, said on Wednesday that the panel was alarmed by the allegations.
"We will work with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to determine next best steps to ensure justice is served," Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Alistair Bell)