In yet another stunning reversal in a tabloid-worthy case, a judge has rebuffed the Orange County District Attorney seeking to dismiss the charges against a Newport Beach orthopedic surgeon and reality-TV star and his girlfriend, both of whom are accused of drugging and raping several women.
District attorney Todd Spitzer, had announced in February that he planned to drop all charges against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 33, the pair of accused serial rapists who prosecutors had said used their looks—and an array of mind-altering pharmaceuticals—to lure an untold number of victims into their web.
Ordinarily when the prosecution and defense agree to a dismissal, a court ruling is a rubber-stamp formality. Which is why legal observers were surprised when Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones, rather than dismiss the case immediately, calendared a hearing and asked to hear from all interested parties, including at least two of the alleged victims.
Coronavirus put everything on hold until Friday, June 5, when Jones ruled that the charges against Robicheaux and Riley should be put before a jury.
Spitzer had already issued a public apology to the defendants, and submitted a court brief that picked apart the alleged victims’ statements and cast doubt on the integrity of investigators.
Jones found no fault with either investigator, and called it “puzzling” that the district attorney sought to have the case dismissed based upon concerns about victim credibility when the alleged victims have never been given the opportunity to testify.
At the time of the arraignment, in 2018, former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was locked in a heated campaign for re-election with challenger Todd Spitzer, his former protege. “The political aspirations of District Attorneys, past and present, and their thirst for media attention, have created a minefield of legal hazards in this case,” Jones wrote.
Before the election, Spitzer criticized Rackauckas’s handling of the case, saying his predecessor had deliberately timed the couple’s arraignment to boost his flagging campaign. After the election, he changed tack, saying Rackauckas and a top deputy had “manufactured this case,” which Jones called “ludicrous.” The judge wrote that the way politics mixed with prosecution “created a minefield of legal hazards in this case.”
Spitzer’s office issued a statement outlining how he had assigned two veteran sexual assault prosecutors last year to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the case over three months–this was after the Attorney General declined a request from Spitzer to take over the case due to what Spitzer said was “a conflict of interest.” The statement reiterates Spitzer’s contention that prosecutors “could not legally and ethically proceed with prosecuting the case due to insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson said it is “extremely rare” for a judge to decline to grant a district attorney’s request for dismissal. In recent years, courts have grown more sensitive to the victim’s position in cases involving alleged sex crime, Levenson said.
Matt Murphy, a former senior deputy district attorney in Orange County, represents four of the unidentified female accusers in the case, known as Jane Does. “These women came forward bravely to participate in this process,” Murphy said. “They have rights as survivors of sexual assault and they were treated horribly by the elected District Attorney. Today the court set that right.”
Robicheaux, who was once featured on a short-lived Bravo reality TV dating show and was chosen as one of Orange County’s most eligible bachelors by Orange Coast magazine, faced sexual assault accusations from seven female victims; Riley, his longtime girlfriend and co-defendant, faced accusations from five women.
A police search of the couple’s home found drugs in Robicheaux’s home, including GHB, a known date rape drug.
Last week, in a brief in support of a motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence, Spitzer’s office argued that the defendants were not sexual predators but rather swingers who “openly pursued scores of women for consensual sexual encounters.” And that the drugs seized from Robicheaux’s residence “simply corroborate the defendants’ own drug use–including the user of GHB–and their practice of offering drugs to individuals with whom they partied.”
By then he had replaced the lead prosecutor in the case and suspended the lead investigator.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday, June 12, when the court will discuss whether Spitzer’s office will relinquish the case to the office of Attorney General Xavier Becerra.