Judge agrees to take O.C. rape case from district attorney, give to state attorney general
The high-profile case of the Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend accused of working together to serially lure, drug and rape several women has been taken out of the Orange County district attorney’s hands.
The state attorney general’s office will take over prosecution for the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones ruled Thursday.
Jones said any prosecutor in Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer’s office who won the case would be in a position of making his boss look foolish for saying the case could not be prosecuted. And any prosecutor who did not vigorously pursue guilty pleas would leave themselves open to discipline from the state bar.
“I have serious questions about the district attorney’s ability to prosecute this case at this point,” the judge said. “I think they are hopelessly conflicted.”
It was the ultimate outcome Spitzer had long wanted. He first sought to have the case transferred to the state a year ago because of how his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, had handled the sensational case during the 2018 election season.
Spitzer asked the state to take over the case in September 2019 because of statements Rackauckas made in depositions for a related civil suit filed by an accuser, in which the former D.A. said he expected the publicity surrounding the case to be beneficial to his campaign. The lurid story line picked up media attention worldwide.
But the state declined Spitzer’s request, saying that any conflict was moot because he had replaced Rackauckas. So Spitzer put two new prosecutors on the case, and a three-month review showed insufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution, Spitzer said.
When county prosecutors sought earlier this year to have the charges dropped altogether, Jones declined to dismiss the charges in favor of presenting them to a jury.
The city of Newport Beach has agreed to pay $360,000 to settle a wrongful arrest suit stemming from a 2016 incident involving a declined credit card for a $16 cab ride.
Though Spitzer and the defense have argued that Rackauckas embellished pretrial publicity fueled by his desire to be reelected, that cannot be a factor in the decision, the judge repeatedly told the lawyers at a February hearing.
So Spitzer asked Jones, who recently survived his own disqualification attempt by the defense on the grounds that he was preferential to a victim’s rights attorney, to refer the case to the state, and the judge agreed.
In a statement Thursday, Spitzer said he was confident that the state attorney general will be fair and just.
“When the attorney general ordered my office to keep the case [in 2019], it was then and only then that a complete reevaluation of the case revealed a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
“A lack of admissible evidence does not mean that a crime was not committed; it means we lack the evidence to meet our legal burden in a court of law. Without sufficient evidence to prove the filed charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the Orange County district attorney’s office is ethically prohibited from moving forward with this prosecution.”
Robicheaux, 39, is an orthopedic surgeon and a onetime reality-TV personality who is facing 17 felony charges, including five counts of rape. Riley, 33, faces three counts of rape among 13 charges in connection with assaults that previous prosecutors alleged took place in Robicheaux’s Balboa Peninsula home. They deny accusations of non-consensual sex.
Both could face life in prison if convicted as charged.
Davis writes for Times Community News. City News Service contributed to this report.
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