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Attorney for accusers in Newport Beach doctor’s rape case wants woman’s civil lawsuit put on hold

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Dr. Grant Robicheaux and girlfriend Cerissa Riley are charged with drugging and raping multiple women.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

An attorney representing women accusing a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend, who are charged with drugging and raping multiple women, asked a judge Tuesday to put a woman’s civil lawsuit against the defendants on hold until there is a resolution in the criminal case.

Attorney Matt Murphy, a retired longtime prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney’s office who now represents several women who claim they were victimized by Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm to put the civil suit on pause while the criminal case remains active.

Schwarm ordered the attorneys to “meet and confer,” a process that encourages them to resolve their differences outside a hearing, on March 20 before another status hearing scheduled for April 14.

Attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents the plaintiff in the civil suit, said he tried to have the case put on hold earlier at the request of prosecutors. Schwarm granted a temporary pause in March last year but lifted it six weeks later.

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“We filed a motion. We won in part and lost in part,” Gilleon said in an interview. “The court had several hearings on this and was thoroughly informed what the law was.”

Murphy called into question how the case was being managed as his clients complained that they were being hassled by investigators working for the defense. Murphy argued they don’t want to be part of the lawsuit, so they shouldn’t have to submit to subpoenas for depositions.

“It is outrageous they’ve used this process to go after these women,” Murphy said.

Defense investigators, he said, have used “really aggravating, obnoxious tactics ... like something from a bad movie” when approaching accusers and their families and friends.

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Schwarm, however, noted that Robicheaux and Riley, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, have a right to defend themselves and that much of the issue had previously been litigated in his courtroom regarding the seven accusers in the criminal complaint.

Murphy said there is still an issue regarding other alleged victims, who could theoretically be used as witnesses in a trial if prosecutors wish to try to establish a pattern of behavior.

Robicheaux and Riley’s attorney, Thomas Ferlauto, accused Murphy of “blindsiding” him with allegations of “witness tampering.”

Tempers flared often in the hearing, with Schwarm admonishing the attorneys to stop interrupting each other and Murphy telling Ferlauto “You want to fight” as he glared at him while they were exiting the courtroom.

Usually, criminal defendants are the ones who seek to pause a civil suit, said Gilleon, who acknowledged that the defendants’ attorneys have used the civil suit to accumulate evidence in the criminal case.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is trying to have the criminal charges against Robicheaux and Riley dismissed, and as justification has pointed to statements that his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, made during depositions in the civil suit.

Spitzer has argued that Rackauckas and his former chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, acknowledged that publicity in the case could help Rackauckas’ reelection campaign in 2018. Rackauckas has denied that politics motivated his handling of it, saying, “My heart goes out to the women who had the courage to come forward with their complaint, because I believed their complaints based on the evidence I had before leaving office.” Spitzer defeated Rackauckas in the 2018 election for district attorney.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones is weighing whether to grant Spitzer’s motion to drop the charges. The next hearing in the case is April 3.

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Murphy filed a motion last week arguing that the case could be turned over to a special prosecutor or the state attorney general’s office.

Philip Kent Cohen, who represents the defendants in the criminal case, led depositions of Rackauckas and Schroeder in the civil suit, which is unusual, Gilleon said. But Gilleon did not object because he felt it might help his civil suit, saying a criminal defense attorney might not be experienced in conducting depositions in civil matters.

“Our case is about one thing and his case is about another, so he doesn’t know how to ask questions in a way that was useful,” Gilleon said. “I don’t think he got any information that was helpful.”

Gilleon lamented that the cases have devolved into “mudslinging and politics” and argued that his client will receive greater justice in a civil courtroom because the standard of proof is lower and the compensation is money.

“In reality, only the civil justice system provides any measure of compensation or control to the victims,” Gilleon said. “In a criminal case, a victim is only a witness. She gets nothing out of it except harassment and behind-the-scenes investigations.”

Daily Pilot staff contributed to this report.

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Updates:
5:14 PM, Feb. 20, 2020: This article originally stated that Dan Gilleon didn’t object to Philip Kent Cohen leading depositions in the civil suit because he perceived Cohen as less skilled in the matter than a civil attorney. Gilleon was referring to criminal defense attorneys in general, not to Cohen in particular.

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