Richard W. Roberts

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Richard Roberts
Richard W. Roberts.jpg
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Assumed office
July 15, 2013
Preceded by Royce C. Lamberth
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Assumed office
June 23, 1998
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Charles Robert Richey
Personal details
Born 1953 (age 61–62)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Vassar College
School for International Training
Columbia University

Chief Judge Richard Warren Roberts (born 1953 in New York City, NY), is the current Chief Judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia is located at 333 Constitution Avenue NW #4400 in Washington, D.C (“United States District Court”, n.d.). The District of Columbia is seated in its own circuit in the Federal Circuit Court system (U.S. Courts, n.d.).

As Chief Judge, Roberts has more responsibilities than the average District Judge in the Court. Roberts has administrative duties such as overseeing the District Court staff. According to an article written by the United States Courts System, “The chief judge of each court plays a key leadership role in overseeing the operations of the court, promoting its efficiency, and ensuring accountability to the public,” (Article III Judges Division, 2010). Roberts oversees the operations of an entire staff of District Judges, Senior Judges, Magistrate Judges, Clerks, Administrative Assistants, etc. The District Court operational policies and management is created by a consensus of the Justices under Chief Judge Roberts (Article III Judges Division, 2010).

Early life and education[edit]

Both of Judge Roberts' parents were public school teachers. His mother was involved as a chorister at the Metropolitan Opera, and his father was avidly involved with the NAACP and even participated in the March on Washington in 1963. His father also participated in the march in Memphis, TN after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Roberts attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, NY and was a 1970 graduate. (Just The Beginning, n.d.).

According to his profile on the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia website, Chief Judge Roberts is a 1974 graduate from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Roberts was awarded an A.B. (Bachelor's of the Arts) and received cum laude honors there. Originally, Roberts was concentrated in mathematics at Vassar but then began a career path in law (Just The Beginning, n.d.). He continued his education at both the School for International Training in Burlington, VT and Columbia Law School in New York City, NY. In 1978, he received a Master's Degree in International Affairs from the School for International Training, and a Juris Doctorate Degree from Columbia Law School. (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.)

Educational Career
Degree Date Institution
Bachelor 1974 Vassar College
M.I.A. 1975 School for International Training
J.D. 1978 Columbia University

Organization membership and other titles[edit]

In 1983, Chief Judge Roberts help found the Washington, D.C. chapter of Concerned Black Men, Inc. (The History Makers, 2008) The Vision of this organization is to help provide more Black male role models for children in various communities across the United States. These role models will help provide care and discipline to children while additionally providing academic and career mentoring (CBM National, n.d.). Chief Judge Roberts held the position of deputy general counsel for the Washington, D.C. chapter.

According to the Biography by the National Conference on Citizenship, Chief Judge Roberts has held various academic, community, and legal positions. In academic settings, he served on the Board of Trustees of Vassar College for 12 years, was a visiting faculty member of the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop, and was an Adjunct Professor of trial practice at Georgetown University Law Center. Judge Roberts has also held positions on the Board of Directors for the Abramson Scholarship Foundation, as well as the Council for Court Excellence and their executive committee. Judge Roberts used to be a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and co-chaired a local public school restructuring team. (NCOC, 2013).

Pre-judicial career[edit]

The first position that Judge Roberts held was as a Trial Attorney position for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. He held this position from 1978 to 1982. In this position, Judge Roberts gained notoriety by prosecuting the murder of two Salt Lake City joggers who were killed for racial reasons. Joseph Franklin, the murderer of the joggers, also was the suspect of about twenty other murders in a three-year span. Franklin also was involved with the Ku Klux Klan (Just The Beginning, n.d.). After being convicted of murder, Franklin confessed to attempting to assassinate Larry Flynt as well as shooting Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. (The History Makers, 2008).

After his tenure as a Trial Attorney for the Department of Justice, Roberts joined the international law private practice, Covington & Burling LLP (NCOC, 2013). He was an attorney at Covington & Burling for four years until 1986 (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.).

In 1986, Roberts was then appointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.) He served underneath United States Attorney Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani, who later served as Mayor of New York City. He held the position of Assistant U.S. Attorney for two years until he was appointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, underneath United States Attorney Jay B. Stephens (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.). In 1993, when President William Clinton appointed Eric Holder (current United States Attorney General) as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Roberts was picked as the Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.). To show some professional connections, Eric Holder was also a partner at Covington & Burling LLP (Department of Justice, n.d.). Roberts held the position of Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney for two years until 1995 (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.). Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney is seen as second-in-command in the U.S. Attorney's Office (The History Makers, 2008). One of the most notable cases that Roberts prosecuted was after the arrest of Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Mayor Barry was arrested after a sting at the Vista Hotel involving crack cocaine (The History Makers, 2008).

President William Clinton appointed Richard Roberts to the position of Criminal Section Chief of the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division in 1995. He served in this position for three years until 1998. At this point, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia judicial seat occupied by Charles R. Richey was vacated. (“History of the Federal Judiciary”, n.d.)

Judicial career[edit]

President William J. Clinton to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia nominated Judge Roberts on January 27, 1998. He was then confirmed by the United States Senate on June 5, 1998, and sworn in on July 31, 1998 (McElhatton). In July 2013 he was promoted to the Chief Judge of that court (Hays). The previous occupant of the seat was Charles R. Richey, who died on March 19, 1997 (Federal Judicial Center).

A notable case Judge Roberts presided over was the Antwuan Ball case. Judge Roberts gave Ball - previously acquitted of high charges including murder and conspiracy - a harsh sentence. Sentencing judges are allowed to take in to consideration charged conduct against defendants that jurors rejected or never considered at trial. "At Ball's sentencing, however, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts said he felt the evidence showed Ball belonged to a conspiracy – a key finding that led to a much longer sentence than what Ball would have faced otherwise" (McElhatton). This case is notable because civil liberty groups have filed a joint petition to the Supreme Court of the United States and claim these provisions of federal judges being given Carte blanch to engage as a fact finder are unconstitutional (McElhatton). The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 for Ball and two fellow defendants, thus upholding Judge Robert's sentence ruling.

Another notable case Judge Roberts made a ruling on pertains to Former District of Columbia Councilmember Michael A. Brown. Brown was convicted of accepting bribes from an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent. Judge Roberts stated, “If there is this sense that this is all politics as usual…the citizens of the District of Columbia are better than that. They deserve better than that” (Bracket). Brown also did not cooperate with investigators who were pursuing similar corruption charges. Overall, Brown took $55,000 in bribes during the FBI operation, but in the past also took $150,000 in illegal and off-the-record donations during his political campaigns in 2007 and 2008. With all this taken in to serious consideration, Judge Roberts sentenced Brown to a three-year prison term (Barakat).

Abu Zubaydah[edit]

Roberts is also the district judge overseeing Abu Zubaydah's lawsuit challenging his detention at Guantanamo Bay detention camps which was filed in July 2008 after the Boumediene v. Bush ruling. As of 2015, the judge has failed to rule on any motions related to the case, even the preliminary ones. This has led Zubaydah's lawyers to file motion asking Judge Roberts to recuse himself for “nonfeasance" in January 2015.

The judge's failure to act for nearly seven years may be related to the revelation in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture that Zubaydah's CIA interrogators wanted him to “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” [1]

Awards and honors[edit]

For Judge Robert's prosecutorial efforts in United States vs. Joseph Paul Franklin (refer to the Judicial Career section above), the U.S. Attorney General awarded him with a special commendation (National Conference on Citizenship). Judge Roberts also graduated cum laude from Vassar College in 1974 with a bachelor degree (The United States Department of Justice). When Judge Roberts was a civil rights prosecutor in the Justice Department, he was hired in to the Attorney General's Honors Program (National Conference on Citizenship). The Attorney General's Honors Program is the largest, most distinguished and prestigious federal entry-level, attorney-hiring program (The United States Department of Justice).


  • Barakat, Matthew. "Ex-DC Lawmaker Brown Gets 3 Years for Bribes." The Washington

Times 29 May 2014, News sec. The Washington Times. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>

  • "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges: Roberts, Richard W." Federal Judicial Center.

Federal Judicial Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>

  • "Entry-Level Attorneys." The United States Department of Justice. The United States

Department of Justice. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <>

  • Hays, Michael. "A Conversation with Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts." Council for Court

Excellence. The Council for Court Excellence. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <>

  1. ^ Staff (2015-05-12). "‘Incommunicado’ Forever: #Gitmo Detainee’s Case Stalled For 2,477 Days And Counting". North Denver News. Retrieved 2015-05-12.