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Judge lifts temporary pause in civil case seeking $22.2 million in damages against Newport Beach doctor accused of sexual assault

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Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, pictured in court in October, have been charged in a criminal case with 17 felony counts, including five counts of rape.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

A judge Tuesday lifted a temporary halt to proceedings in a woman’s civil lawsuit that seeks $22.2 million in damages against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend who she alleges drugged and raped her in 2016.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm ruled that an ongoing criminal case against Dr. Grant Robicheax and Cerissa Riley doesn’t warrant a stay in the civil case. Schwarm had granted the temporary pause March 19 after the plaintiff requested that her case be put on hold until after the criminal proceedings conclude.

However, he ultimately decided the existence of the other case didn’t, by itself, justify the stay, according to his tentative ruling. A stay is more often granted if requested by a defendant.

Civil cases brought against criminal defendants typically wait until after the criminal proceedings. However, the woman’s lawsuit was filed last year to beat a filing deadline under the statute of limitations.

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Attorneys for Robicheaux and Riley contended last month that the plaintiff’s motion to stay the case amounted to a ruse by her attorney to wait and see what evidence becomes public during the criminal proceeding.

In another decision Tuesday, Schwarm ruled the plaintiff and all other alleged victims and their relatives in the criminal case could be shielded from deposition in the civil matter under Marsy’s Law, which allows alleged victims in California to refuse defendants’ requests for interviews or pretrial testimony.

Robicheaux’s attorney Thomas Ferlauto argued that Marsy’s Law, the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, doesn’t apply in civil cases.

“You have a lot of rights that get waived when you subject yourself to litigation,” Ferlauto said. “[The law is] certainly not meant to apply to a plaintiff suing for $22 million.”

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“It was never intended to be a sword, it was supposed to be a shield,” Ferlauto said of the law, arguing that it inhibits his client from mounting a defense.

“The fact that I can’t prepare my case for trial is patently unfair,” Ferlauto said after the hearing.

But the plaintiff’s attorney James Mitchell said, “I don’t think [the plaintiff] waives her rights as a crime victim because of a civil lawsuit.”

“The whole point is to protect crime victims. I think it’s just logic that Marsy’s Law should apply to this plaintiff,” Mitchell said.

The woman’s lawsuit seeks damages against Robicheaux and Riley as well as a couple who partly own the Newport Beach home where the assault allegedly occurred.

The statement of damages includes $10 million for emotional distress and $10 million for “pain, suffering and inconvenience,” according to court documents.

The complaint says the plaintiff was introduced to Robicheaux and Riley at a Halloween party through a mutual acquaintance. Authorities allege the couple drugged the woman’s drink with GHB and raped her in the bedroom of the home.

Robicheaux and Riley were accused last year of drugging and sexually assaulting several women. They are charged with 17 felony counts, including five counts of rape.

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They have denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.

The civil case is scheduled back in court June 28. The criminal case is scheduled to return to court Friday.

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