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Judge delays decision on dismissing rape charges against Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend

Dr. Grant Robicheaux, left, and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, leave the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Friday after Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones delayed a decision on dismissing rape charges against them.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend accused of a series of sexual assaults will have to wait two months before they learn whether their case will head to trial or be dismissed.

After a hearing lasting more than two hours Friday morning, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones told defense and prosecution lawyers that he would return with a ruling April 3 in the case of Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley — one that Jones said had been “infected” by politics.

On that, both sides agree. On Tuesday, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced that he would seek dismissal of all charges against Robicheaux and Riley related to allegations that they had lured, drugged and raped multiple women.

The case became a sensation in September 2018 when Spitzer’s predecessor, then-District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, announced charges against the couple. At the time, Rackauckas said investigators had “thousands of videos” in evidence that showed there could be “hundreds” or “more than a thousand” victims.

Spitzer says those videos don’t exist. “There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted,” Spitzer said at a news conference Tuesday. “Not one.”

He claimed Rackauckas was motivated to embellish the case in his unsuccessful attempt at reelection to his longtime position as the county’s top prosecutor. Spitzer defeated Rackauckas in the November 2018 election.

County lawyers argued last year on Rackauckas’ behalf that his estimate of a thousand or thousands referred to the number of videos, not the number of victims.

But defense attorneys seized on the figure, claiming Rackauckas recklessly misrepresented the videos and “destroyed the integrity of this case” for political purposes while running for reelection.

Jones, however, pointedly reminded Spitzer — and defense attorney Philip Kent Cohen — multiple times during Friday’s hearing that he was only considering evidence in his deliberations on whether to dismiss the charges, not Rackauckas’ alleged political motives.

Newport Beach surgeon Grant Robicheaux, center, and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, arrive at Orange County Superior Court's Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Friday for a hearing on possible dismissal of sexual assault charges against them.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Robicheaux and Riley have pleaded not guilty and repeatedly denied having nonconsensual sex with their accusers.

Spitzer said this week that the evidence was insufficient to prove the accusations — 17 charges, including five counts of rape, against Robicheaux, and three counts of rape among 13 charges against Riley — in connection with assaults that previous prosecutors alleged took place in Robicheaux’s Balboa Peninsula home.

In a statement Tuesday, Rackauckas defended his handling of the case and suggested the move to drop the charges was a possible “political vendetta against me.”

“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 bearing their souls to the authorities,” Rackauckas said. “I just hope they’re not being sold down the river for some twisted political motive.”

In addition to the criminal case, one of the seven accusers filed a civil suit. The dismissal would apply only to the criminal charges.

Robicheaux appeared in 2014 on the Bravo show “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male,” which followed him as he looked for a girlfriend. He also was named “Orange County’s Most Eligible Bachelor” by Orange Coast magazine in 2013. A Hoag Hospital profile said he received his medical degree from Louisiana State University and did his residency at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

Authorities alleged that a woman met the surgeon and his girlfriend in April 2016 and they invited her to a party. She told authorities that afterward she was “very tired and very intoxicated” when she went with the couple to Robicheaux’s home. Once inside, prosecutors alleged, they gave her drugs and then raped and orally copulated her.

The woman contacted police the next morning to report that she had been assaulted, and a subsequent test of her blood showed multiple controlled substances in her body, Rackauckas said.

Prosecutors alleged Robicheaux and Riley struck again Oct. 2, 2016, drinking alcohol with another woman at a Newport Beach bar until the alleged victim was no longer conscious. Officials alleged the pair took her to Robicheaux’s residence and began “sexually assaulting her with the intent to commit rape.”

More women later made similar allegations.

Authorities said a search of Robicheaux’s home on Jan. 9, 2018, turned up large quantities of illegal drugs and a small arsenal of firearms. Rackauckas said the drugs included GHB, the so-called date rape drug, along with MDMA and cocaine.

Newport Beach police turned over their investigation to prosecutors on Sept. 6, 2018, and charges were filed Sept. 11. The next morning, detectives arrested the couple.

Asked in 2018 why it took so long to arrest the pair, given two reports to police in 2016, then-Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said the evidence initially did not meet the standard to make an arrest.

“We had our suspicions but we didn’t have positive identity,” Manzella said, adding that detectives continued to work the case for two years.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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Updates

1:19 p.m. Feb. 7, 2020: This article was originally published at 12:42 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.


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