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The Honorable Richard W. Roberts

United States District Court Judge Richard Warren Roberts was born in New York City. Roberts graduated cum laude with an A.B. degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 1983, Roberts was a founding member of the Washington chapter of Concerned Black Men, Inc. and served as the deputy general counsel of the organization. In 1978, Roberts received his Masters of International Administration degree from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. That same year, he received his J.D. degree from Columbia University.

From 1978 until 1982, Roberts served as a trial attorney in the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division for the United States Department of Justice. As a federal prosecutor, Roberts successfully prosecuted several high profile cases, including the killing of two Salt Lake City joggers in a racially motivated sniper attack. The offender, Joseph Paul Franklin, was a serial killer who was suspected of killing as many as twenty people between 1977 and 1980. Roberts’s conviction led to Franklin’s confession of various assassination attempts including magazine publisher Larry Flynt, and the 1980 shooting of Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. Roberts worked in private practice in Washington, D.C. from 1982 to 1986 and as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York from 1986 to 1988. Roberts returned to Washington, D.C. in 1988, and worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office until 1995. In 1990, at the age of thirty-seven, Roberts prosecuted then Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry for violating federal narcotics laws. Mayor Barry had been arrested in a sting operation at the Vista Hotel by the FBI and Washington, D.C. police for crack cocaine use and possession.

After working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., in 1993, Roberts was appointed by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder as the principal Assistant U.S. Attorney, serving as second-in-command of the office. In 1995, Roberts was named chief of the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division by the United States Justice Department.

Accession Number

A2007.275

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/28/2007 |and| 5/1/2008

Last Name

Roberts

Maker Category
Middle Name

Warren

Schools

Vassar College

Columbia Law School

The School for International Training Graduate Institute

Princeton University

First Name

Richard

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

ROB18

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Keep The Faith.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/21/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Lasagna (Meat)

Short Description

Federal district court judge and lawyer The Honorable Richard W. Roberts (1953 - ) was named chief of the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division by the United States Justice Department in 1995.

Employment

U.S. Justice Department

Covington and Burling LLP

U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York

U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Richard W. Roberts' interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his maternal great uncle, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his maternal great uncle, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his maternal uncle, Theodore Tynes

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his paternal uncle, Morris Harrison Tynes

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his maternal family's musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his maternal aunt's musical career

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers visiting his aunt in Europe, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers visiting his aunt in Europe, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about his father's high school education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his father's education at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about his father's graduate studies at New York University

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his parents' relationship and professions

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard Roberts talks about his paternal grandfather's photography studio

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard Roberts describes how his paternal grandfather learned photography

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard Roberts recalls the publication of his paternal grandfather's photographs

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard Roberts describes his paternal grandfather's photographs

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard Roberts remembers his paternal aunts and uncles

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard Roberts describes his parents' careers

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard Roberts remembers his father's work ethic

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard Roberts describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard Roberts describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls moving to Queens, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his neighborhood in Queens, New York, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his neighborhood in Queens, New York, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his early education

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls being bused to J.H.S. 202 in Queen, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about the importance of multicultural education

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his father's activism

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his parents' commitment to education

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the influence of his music teacher

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his high school biology teacher

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his early aspirations

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his involvement in sports

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the semiannual concert at the High School of Music and Art

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers applying to college

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls applying to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his experiences at Vassar College

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls studying at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about his major at Vassar College

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers Angela Davis

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about African liberation movements

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers the School for International Training Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts reflects upon his trip to Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about the Congress of Afrikan People

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the political tensions in Kenya, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the political tensions in Kenya, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his decision to attend Columbia Law School in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his orientation at Columbia Law School

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his first year at Columbia Law School

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls developing an interest in public service

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his third year at Columbia Law School

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Richard W. Roberts' interview, session 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his studies at Columbia Law School in New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his master's degree program

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers joining the U.S. Department of Justice

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls prosecuting Joseph Paul Franklin, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls prosecuting Joseph Paul Franklin, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers the conviction of Joseph Paul Franklin

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls prosecuting slavery cases, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls prosecuting slavery cases, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers prosecuting Robert Allan Carr, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers prosecuting Robert Allan Carr, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers his first case as a prosecutor

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes the caseload of the U.S. Department of Justice

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls joining the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his decision to return to Washington, D.C.

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the case against Mayor Marion Barry, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls the case against Mayor Marion Barry, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes the undercover operation against Mayor Marion Barry

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers prosecuting Mayor Marion Barry

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls leading the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls investigating discrimination in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his role in the Rodney King case

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls his appointment as a federal judge

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts remembers a campaign finance fraud case

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls a sexual harassment case in the D.C. Department of Corrections, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls a sexual harassment case in the D.C. Department of Corrections, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts talks about the success rate of employment discrimination cases

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his judicial philosophy

Tape: 10 Story: 10 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 10 Story: 11 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts reflects upon his life

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes his judicial role models

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts reflects upon his family, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts reflects upon his family, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$8

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
The Honorable Richard Roberts talks about his paternal grandfather's photography studio
The Honorable Richard W. Roberts recalls prosecuting Joseph Paul Franklin, pt. 1
Transcript
Did you want to tell the story about your grandfather?$$Yes. My grand- my father's father was named Richard Samuel Roberts. His family originally was from, from Fernandina, Florida [Fernandina Beach, Florida], where my Dad [Beverly Roberts] was born. But in Fernandina, he was the custodian of the post office [U.S. Post Office Department; U.S. Postal Service] at that time. When he and my grandmother [Wilhelmina Williams Roberts] decided, however, to move to Columbia, South Carolina, roughly around 1920, he also landed a job as the custodian for the federal courthouse in the federal building in Columbia, South Carolina. He held that job during the day shift. I believe he started around four [o'clock] in the morning and stayed until about twelve noon. But his real passion was photography. He had a photographic studio that he ran in the half-block long, black business district of Columbia, South Carolina at that time. So, in the afternoons, he'd go down to that photographic studio where he would engage in photography, and principally shoot portrait photographs of many people who wanted to have some record of what they looked like or what they did, or have photographs of themselves or the children, or their possessions that they wanted to have recorded in photography. His tagline for his studio was "We will make a true likeness of you. If you like the way you look, it'll be a true likeness that you will see in your pictures. If there's something about the way you look that you don't like, we will make sure that we can fix it, so that it's, nevertheless, a true likeness that you enjoy." That was his passion. He did principally portrait photography, but he is also hired to take photographs of events--graduations, funerals, and other things of that nature. Oftentimes, when young babies died, and the infant mortality rate was much higher then than it is now, parents would want to have something to remember their babies by. So, they would hire a photographer to come take pictures of the baby in the baby's funeral garb or funeral dress. So, there, it's interesting that in the collection of his photographs, you will see that with some frequency. But he ran his studio from 1920 through 1936. His wife, my grandmother, was a constant helper, although she was, again, a homemaker rearing five children. She would often come down to the studio in the afternoon with fresh baked bread, or some lunch, or a hot meal for him to eat there, assist when she could when customers were coming into the studio. So, it was very much a partnership in that regard, but the craft and the artistry was principally his.$Talk about a couple of cases. I know there's, the one that I know about here is the case of Joseph Paul Franklin, shooting two black joggers in Salt Lake City [Utah], that this guy has a long history--well, just tell us about this case.$$In the, 1980 or so, we had gotten the report that two black teen- teenage joggers, who had been jogging with two white female joggers, in a city park in Utah, had been shot and killed by a sniper. This was on the heels of a trail of other shootings that had occurred across the country. When the investigation was all completed, and we had identified Joseph Paul Franklin as the person who was responsible for the Utah shooting, it turned out he had also been involved in shootings of many other black people and biracial couples throughout the United States. He also had been identified as having shot Vernon Jordan [HistoryMaker Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.], who was, at the time, the president of the Urban League [National Urban League]. Vernon Jordan had been attending a meeting of his board in Fort Wayne, I believe, Indiana, and he had given a ride to one of his board members who happened to be a white female back to her lodging. And when Franklin, who was in the area, saw the two of them emerge from his car, Franklin apparently reacted the same way he did when seeing people of multiple races together. He allegedly pulled out a .30-06 rifle or a .30-30 rifle, held it up, and fired into Vernon Jordan's back. It felled him and required him to be hospitalized. Happily, Jordan recovered, and the rest of his story is history. He's done quite well since then. But I've seen Vernon Jordan, and he has told me that, that shooting blew a hole in his back the size of my fist, and that, but for the grace of God, the hole was just to the side of his spinal column. And although it did a quite a bit of damage to him internally, it did not sever his spinal cord, so he's able, thankfully, to be with us today, and in full shape. But in any event, when the black joggers in Utah were felled by Franklin's bullets, the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] undertook a massive investigation to try to track down all the leads that they could. And I remember having been assigned this case when it was simply a newspaper article that we saw, and said, "This sounds like it may be a criminal civil rights violation. Let's have somebody monitor this," and I was the one to monitor it. I will never forget that on the day of the debate between Jimmy Carter [President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.] and Ronald Reagan [Ronald Wilson Reagan], the presidential debate where Jimmy Carter was the incumbent running for reelection, Ronald Reagan was the Republican opponent. I was sitting in front of my television ready to take in the debate. A flash came across the bottom of the screen, one of those news alerts. It said that Joseph Paul Franklin had been arrested at a blood bank in Florida--tune in at eleven [o'clock] for more details. Well, that was the first that I learned that the suspect that we had been trailing all over the country, because he was running from the authorities, and changing his appearance, and trying to adopt disguises, and ditching cars, and shifting locations, had been captured. I knew at that point that I would not have the luxury of sitting back and seeing the debate, that I'd have to go straight into the office and get on top of developments, and be prepared to go out to Utah to pursue the grand jury investigation. And that is what happened. When we got all the leads together, and got all the evidence together, we were able to have an indictment against him for committing two criminal civil rights violations with death resulting. We had urged the local district attorney to go first since the greater interest was lodged there in Utah, and we certainly wanted to be able to yield to them to go first. They decided to have the federal case go first and we stepped up.