Prosecutors expect to move forward in doctor drug-rape case
A prosecutor told an Orange County Superior Court judge Wednesday that she is prepared to go forward with some counts and dismiss others in the case against a Newport Beach hand surgeon and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and raping several women.
Yvette Martinez of the attorney general’s office said a decision on the future of the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 40, and Cerissa Laura Riley, 34, was “imminent,” but first she must brief Rob Bonta after he is expected to be sworn in as the new attorney general, if approved by state lawmakers. The new attorney general, she explained, must sign off on the recommendation from Martinez.
Robicheaux and Riley are charged with drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims they allegedly met at social gatherings. Robicheaux is charged in connection with seven alleged victims, while Riley is charged with five. They have both continued to maintain their innocence.
The idea of waiting for the new attorney general troubled Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg as he cited the lengthy history of politics involved in the case as it became a political football during Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer’s campaign to unseat Tony Rackauckas. Spitzer’s office was removed from the case last year after he tried to dump it and the attorney general’s office took it over.
Martinez initially asked for a final pretrial hearing for May 25 before setting a preliminary hearing, but Bromberg moved it up to May 14 instead. He said a preliminary hearing will be held soon after that.
“We have conducted a very thorough review of this case,” Martinez told the judge. “We’ve done our due diligence ... We are very close to a decision.” But Martinez said “in deference” to Bonta she needed a chance to brief him on it before making that final decision.
“In deference to the new attorney general? I don’t understand that,” Bromberg said.
Bromberg suggested it was improper for an elected official to make political decisions about the prosecution of a crime. “Can you give the court a preview of where you’re going with the case?” Bromberg asked Martinez. “What do you think you might be doing?”
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer sought to dismiss rape charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend last year based on a review of evidence that a group of senior investigators later found to be flawed.
Martinez said her office would likely not pursue having a new independent prosecutor assigned to the case.
“I don’t make decisions for the attorney general, but I can make recommendations,” Martinez said.
“I’m asking you to give the court a heads up, an idea,’' Bromberg said.
“We expect to move forward on some counts, but not on all counts,” Martinez said. The prosecutor said she also wanted to discuss the future of the case with the alleged victims as well.
“When a politician starts getting involved in a case we get nervous,” Bromberg said of the judicial branch in general. “And you told me the attorney general, the elected official, is going to make a determination about this case.”
Bonta, if confirmed, would take over for Xavier Becerra, who joined the Biden administration cabinet as the head of health and human services.
“We know the history of this case and that got ugly,” Bromberg said of the cries of politics in the past between Spitzer and Rackauckas.
“My recommendation will be based on the evidence and not politics,” Martinez said. “But I’m a trial attorney, and I’m not the boss.”
Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who represents Robicheaux, reiterated previous complaints about Bromberg’s sealing of a memo regarding Orange County district attorney investigator Jennifer Kearns, who worked on the case before being placed on administrative leave. Kearns this month sued the county, alleging she was retaliated against for pursuing the case while Spitzer attempted to have the charges dismissed.
Cohen has objected to Kearns citing attorney-client privilege with Matt Murphy, who is representing several alleged victims in the case, and claimed the memo would be helpful to his defense. Cohen also represents the defendants in a separate civil suit filed by an alleged victim, and Murphy has previously claimed Cohen was using the civil suit to harass the alleged victims in the criminal case.
Bromberg said he sealed the document out of concerns for Kearns’ privacy but said he would revisit his decision if it became an exhibit in Kearns’ lawsuit.
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