Judge rejects D.A.’s. bid to drop rape case against Orange County doctor, girlfriend
A judge denied the Orange County district attorney’s request to dismiss sexual assault charges against a well-known Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend Friday, continuing a legal saga that has been marred by a political battle between the county’s current and former top prosecutor.
Grant Robicheaux, 39, and his girlfriend Cerissa Riley, 32, were charged with multiple counts of sexual assault in 2018, after former Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas accused the couple of using their good looks and charm to lure women home from local bars or festivals like Burning Man and then forcing them into sex acts.
But late last year, Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer launched a review of the case after a prosecutor said there were “serious proof problems.” The prosecutors who reviewed the evidence against Robicheaux and Riley later agreed there was “insufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spitzer said earlier this year.
However, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones rejected Spitzer’s request for a dismissal Friday and said he had “concerns” about the ability of the district attorney’s office to prosecute the case because of Spitzer’s repeated comments critical of the investigation and of Rackauckas’ decision to bring the charges.
“I have concerns with the people being able to prosecute this by way of the Orange County District Attorney’s office,” he said. “It has been stated by Mr. Spitzer that Mr. Tony Rackauckas and his chief deputy manufactured the case.”
Jones excoriated Spitzer in a 25-page ruling, contending that the prosecution’s concerns about the credibility of some of the victims in the case should be settled by a jury. Jones also repeatedly questioned the validity of claims by the district attorney’s office that one of its investigators had “deceived, misled, and persuaded” some victims to “slant their narratives.”
“It is hard for this Court to understand how Mr. Spitzer and his deputies can reject the allegations of seven women they have never met or interviewed,” Jones wrote. “It is apparent that the ‘rogue’ investigator met with many of the victims and apparently found them believable.”
Speaking from the bench Friday, Jones also questioned whether the district attorney’s office should be recused from the matter, considering Spitzer’s public criticism of the case. Spitzer previously asked the California attorney general’s office to take over the case, but the request was declined.
In a statement, Spitzer reiterated that he did not believe he had the evidence to justify a prosecution of the couple and expressed concern that prolonging the process would only cause “further trauma” for the women who came forward in the first place.
“We have represented to the Court on multiple occasions that we do not have the evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore we cannot legally, ethically, and morally proceed with the prosecution of this case,” he said. .
Spitzer recommended all charges be dropped in February, but Jones said he wanted to conduct a careful review of the district attorney’s request before taking any action. The case was set to return to court in early April, but the hearing was pushed back due to closures forced by the coronavirus.
Robicheaux, an orthopedic surgeon who gained some notoriety through appearances on a Bravo reality television show, and Riley were initially accused of luring two women home, drugging them and assaulting them at their posh Newport Beach home on separate occasions. As an investigation into the pair continued, prosecutors ultimately accused Robicheaux of assaulting seven different women and contended Riley was involved in five of those assaults.
The couple were charged with multiple felony counts including rape by drugs, oral copulation by anesthesia and assault with intent to commit sexual offenses. Rackauckas had said investigators found video evidence of the assaults that showed women who were “highly intoxicated beyond the ability to consent or resist.”
But almost immediately, the case was stained by a bitter feud between Rackauckas, the county’s entrenched longtime prosecutor, and Spitzer, a former county supervisor and assistant district attorney who was seeking to unseat him.
The day Rackauckas announced charges against Robicheaux and Riley, Spitzer held a news conference accusing Rackauckas of waiting to bring charges until a time when it might boost his reelection chances.
The first woman to make accusations against Robicheaux contacted Newport Beach police in October 2016, nearly two years before Rackauckas filed charges. Spitzer defeated Rackauckas in November 2018. Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for Spitzer, noted police did not refer the cases to prosecutors for filing at that time.
Rackauckas has defended his handling of the case, and accused Spitzer of playing politics in seeking a dismissal.
“Certainly, any prosecutor should think long and hard before dismissing such a case where multiple women have independently come forward and subjected themselves to the hard process of baring their souls to the authorities,” the former district attorney said in a statement. “I just hope they’re not being sold down the river for some twisted political motive.”
Spitzer had accused Rackauckas of “manufacturing” the prosecution, a claim Jones scoffed at in his ruling. Jones noted searches of Robicheaux’s home had turned up a wide array of intoxicants and other items that could be used to render a victim unable to consent, including the drug GHB, and that the investigation stemmed from independent claims made to the Newport Beach Police Department years earlier.
“This allegation by Mr. Spitzer is simply ludicrous, and frankly raises significant concerns about his motivation in filing this motion to dismiss,” Jones wrote.
Ultimately, Jones said, the war between the current and former district attorney had overshadowed any actual objective review of the case, which would need to be settled by a jury.
“The public has heard from the politicians. The public has never heard from the alleged victims. Any objective analysis of this case leads to the conclusion that these charges should be put before a jury,” Jones wrote. “A back room dismissal by prosecutors without the alleged victims ever having the opportunity to be heard is contrary to the core values of our legal process, and the interests of the public.”
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