A judge on Friday delayed a decision on whether to remove the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the criminal case against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend accused of drugging and raping several women after the couple’s lawyers requested the judge step down from the case.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones had been expected to decide whether to turn over to the State Attorney General’s Office the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley.
A week ago, the judge refused a request by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to dismiss the sexual-assault and kidnapping charges against the couple.
Defense attorneys, minutes before Friday’s hearing, apparently filed a motion requesting that the judge disqualify himself from the case over the appearance of bias. The motion was not immediately publicly available, and no mention was made in the hearing about exactly what allegations of bias were raised.
Jones, who has presided over the case since it was first filed, set a hearing for June 19, saying he needed time to respond.
In a stunning turn-around earlier this year, the same DA’s office that previously described the couple as serial sexual-assault predators announced that because of a lack of evidence it would seek the dismissal of criminal charges, which include three counts each of kidnapping with intent to commit sexual offense among other charges connected to seven women.
In refusing to dismiss the charges, Judge Jones last week wrote that “any objective analysis of this case leads to the conclusion that these charges should be put before a jury,” adding that “a back-room dismissal by prosecutors without the alleged victims ever having the opportunity to be heard is contrary to the core values of our legal process and the interests of the public.”
Matt Murphy – a former Orange County homicide prosecutor who now represents several of the alleged victims in the Robicheaux and Riley case – has accused Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer of colluding with the couple’s defense attorneys and making politically-tinged decisions.
Murphy alleges that Spitzer stymied the case by removing a veteran prosecutor and assigning it to “less-experienced counsel” and removing, but not replacing, the assigned investigator.
“Mr. Spitzer has a responsibility to the community, and made specific promises to these victims which he broke in the name of base political convenience,” Murphy wrote in a brief filed with the court this week. “Put plainly, the district attorney sold these women out … to the representatives of an accused serial rapist for cheap political gain, gratuitous reprisal and a few headlines.”
The DAs office in a response filed with the court on Thursday agreed that the case should be referred to the State Attorney General’s Office: “Legally and ethically, this office cannot present evidence against or seek the conviction of these defendants for the crimes currently charged.”
The prosecutors currently assigned to the case – senior deputy district attorneys Rick Zimmer and Karyn Stokke – defended themselves.
“We, as career prosecutors and officers of the court, acted in good faith and based on what we believe our ethical responsibilities entail,” the prosecutors wrote. “To assume otherwise without any actual evidence to the contrary and accuse us of seeking a ‘back-door dismissal’ when we have been nothing but candid with the court unfairly maligns our reputations and personal character.”
Less than two years ago, then-DA Tony Rackauckas accused Robicheaux and Riley of using their good looks to meet women in bars and restaurants in Newport Beach and then drugging and luring them back to Robicheaux’s apartment to sexually assault them.
In news conferences that drew international attention, Rackauckas described police finding guns and narcotics, including “date-rape drugs,” in Robicheaux’s apartment and videos as well of the couple having sex with women who appeared too intoxicated to consent.
Spitzer, during a news conference earlier this year, said a lengthy review of the case found not a single piece of evidence that showed “an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted.”
Spitzer alleged that his predecessor committed misconduct in the case – an allegation Rackauckas has denied – and apologized to the couple, saying they were “mistreated by system.”
In recent court filings, the prosecutors currently assigned to the case described Robicheaux and Riley as Newport Beach swingers who “openly pursued scores of women for consensual sexual encounters” with women who “openly used drugs with them.”
The prosecutors wrote that none of the alleged victims “made a clear expression of a lack of consent” during their sexual encounters with Robicheaux and Riley. The prosecutors also placed much of the blame of the DA’s initial handling of the case on one of the office’s own investigators, alleging she committed “investigative impropriety” by exaggerating some alleged evidence and leaving key details out of reports.
Murphy has countered that the women have never met and live across the country and the world, yet have told similar, and at times nearly identical, descriptions of their alleged sexual assaults.
The prosecution’s arguments failed to sway Judge Jones, who in a written opinion released last week said it was “puzzling” that he was being asked to dismiss the case before any alleged victim had an opportunity to testify.
The judge also noted that while there were “many inconsistencies” in the alleged victims’ statements, he believed that could be expected “when the subject crime is rape by use of drugs.”
Source: Orange County Register