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Judge reverses order that barred reporting on search warrant in case of Newport Beach surgeon

Judge reverses order that barred reporting on search warrant in case of Newport Beach surgeon
Dr. Grant Robicheaux, sitting with girlfriend Cerissa Riley in court on Oct. 17, has been charged with drugging and raping seven women. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

An Orange County Superior Court judge Tuesday reversed an order barring journalists from reporting on a search warrant filed in the case against a Newport Beach surgeon facing felony charges of drugging and raping seven women dating to 2009.

Grant Robicheaux, 38, once dubbed Orange County’s most eligible bachelor, and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, 31, are accused of rape by drugs, kidnapping, oral copulation by anesthesia, assault with intent to commit sexual offenses and other crimes. They have denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.

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The search warrant and corresponding affidavit, which details the police investigation into the couple beginning in 2016, was filed in court Jan. 3 and sealed Sept. 11, according to Orange County district attorney’s office spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden.

The order to seal was affirmed by Judge Greg Jones on Sept. 18 when media outlets requested the document from the courthouse, she said. The Los Angeles Times acquired an unsealed copy of the public record.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he obtained the search warrant before it was sealed and distributed it to the media Oct. 17 at a news conference.

Jones, who is presiding over the case, asked reporters from various outlets to return the document to the court and prohibited them from publishing information in the record, despite acknowledging that the “proverbial genie was already out of the bottle.”

On Tuesday, Jones reversed his order and unsealed the warrant, Van Der Linden said.

Spitzer told The Times that he obtained the document from the court file as a public record and spoke to Jones directly about the file. Spitzer is running for Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ seat in the November election.

“It was a public record, and he acknowledged that it was not sealed and that other people, including The Times, had it. I told him I wouldn’t be appearing as there was no dispute the record was public,” Spitzer said. “The case law is clear on this issue when it comes to public records.”

Jones made his ruling after Rackauckas and defense attorneys asked him to have media outlets return the document, which the prosecutor said contains “extremely sensitive information about the rape victims and the defendants.” Rackauckas said the release of the information could compromise the integrity of the case.

Van Der Linden said victims of sexual assault are hesitant to come forward and could be deterred by having sensitive information about their assaults published.

“I think this has a chilling effect on future victims coming forward,” she said.

Attorneys for the Orange County Register and the Associated Press argued in court documents that the judge’s order was a “preemptively unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.”

Spitzer said he distributed the records to show that the district attorney has known since late last year about the couple and should have filed charges earlier, adding that Rackauckas wanted the document shielded from public view to avoid embarrassment.

“The search warrant from January proves two points that the detective described the suspects as sexual predators and that she believed there were more victims out there,” Spitzer said.

Rackauckas has said that his office learned of the investigation in late December when a DNA test related to one of the alleged sexual assaults was run through the office’s lab.

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The search warrant revealed that Newport Beach police launched their investigation into Robicheaux and Riley in April 2016 when a young woman said she was attacked. After initially cooperating, the woman repeatedly delayed a police interview, which stalled the law enforcement investigation, according to the document.

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