Judge Richard W. Roberts
“The brilliant and feared second-year law student who was my CLEO class’ teaching assistant, and who brooked no performance from us less than excellence, has become, unsurprisingly, Associate Judge Susan Holmes Winfield of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. But the man she assisted, Harvard educator, Walter J. Leonard, taught us in CLEO what I have used professionally for 36 years as my guiding principle: ‘You must have a fetish for preparation.”
Richard W. Roberts was sworn in on July 31, 1998 as a United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. He became the Chief Judge of that Court in July of 2013. Before his appointment to the bench, he served as the Chief of the Criminal Section in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In prior posts, he served as the Principal Assistant United States (U.S.) Attorney for the District of Columbia, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and for the Southern District of New York, an associate with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling, and a civil rights prosecutor in the Justice Department, where he was hired in the Attorney General’s Honors Program.
Among the significant matters for which Chief Judge Roberts was responsible during his career as a federal prosecutor was the successful trial of United States v. Joseph Paul Franklin in which a serial killer was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for violating the civil rights of two black Salt Lake City joggers in a fatal racially motivated sniper attack. For his efforts in that case, Chief Judge Roberts received a special commendation from the U.S. Attorney General. He also successfully tried a number of involuntary servitude cases involving child slavery in a religious cult, peonage, and the death of a migrant worker forced to work against his will.
His later efforts focused upon financial crimes and corruption and resulted in the convictions, among others, of a former judge in a $2 million bank fraud scheme, a resort owner in a $1.8 million tax evasion and currency transaction structuring scheme, the leaders of a major multi-state car theft ring, and the mayor of Washington, D.C. for violating the narcotics laws.
Chief Judge Roberts earned an A.B. degree cum laude from Vassar College in 1974, and in 1978 received an M.I.A. degree from the School for International Training and a J.D. degree from Columbia Law School. He is a founding member and past deputy general counsel of the Washington, D.C. chapter of Concerned Black Men, Inc., served for 12 years as a member of the Board of Trustees of Vassar College, and has been a visiting faculty member of the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop since 1984. Currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Abramson Scholarship Foundation, the Council for Court Excellence, and the Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit, Chief Judge Roberts is a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations, served two terms as co-chair of his local public school restructuring team, and previously was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center where he taught trial practice. He is married to former Ambassador Vonya B. McCann and has two children.