An Orange County Superior Court judge has agreed to drastically scale back criminal charges against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend once accused of drugging and raping a series of women, setting the stage for a high-profile prosecution that had become entangled in heated political battles and derailed by unexpected legal roadblocks.
On Thursday, Aug. 26, Judge Frank Ospino approved a request by the California Attorney General’s Office to pare down the criminal charges against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley to focus on two of the original seven women the couple was accused of sexually assaulting.
This week’s ruling focused on the fate of criminal charges related to three alleged victims. A different judge already dismissed charges related to two other women who no longer wanted to be involved in the case after indicating they had been “dragged through the mud” and “grossly mistreated” by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which initially filed the criminal charges.
Ospino’s ruling, announced from his Santa Ana courtroom, came more than a year after an attempt by the District Attorney’s Office to completely dismiss all of the criminal charges against the couple was denied by another judge. Local prosecutors were then being taken off of the case and replaced by their state counterparts.
Attorney’s representing the women have fought back against the efforts to scale back or throw out the criminal charges, accusing prosecutors of not listening to them.
Judge Ospino has set an ambitious timeline. By the end of the year he wants to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. Robicheaux and Riley’s attorneys have said they will seek to have the entire case dismissed because, they say, there has been misconduct by the Orange County DA’s Office.
With the case raising difficult and complicated questions regarding consent and intoxication, prosecutors with the State Attorney General’s Office has repeatedly said that while it believes the women are telling the truth it has doubts about whether many of the original criminal charges could be proven.
During a hearing in Ospino’s courtroom last week, one of the women urged the judge to deny the prosecution’s request to pare back the criminal charges, saying the case has become “a complete travesty.”
“I’ve watched other victims become exhausted, throw up their hands and walk away,” the woman told the judge. “There are seven victims, yet we can’t find a single prosecutor in Orange County or California to prosecute a serial rapist.”
In 2018, then-District Attorney Tony Rackauckas described Robicheaux and Riley meeting a series of women in restaurants and bars, drugging them and luring them back to Robicheaux’s Newport Beach apartment to sexually assault them.
Current District Attorney Todd Spitzer unseated Rackauckas, and last year moved to dismiss the charges, apologizing to the couple and contending there wasn’t evidence of wrongdoing. Prosecutors with his office later described the couple as swingers who had consensual sexual encounters and drug use.
Spitzer accused Rackauckas of manufacturing the case, and alleged that an investigators, a veteran sex crimes detective, exaggerated the evidence. The investigator has since filed a lawsuit against Spitzer, accusing him of colluding with defense attorneys to dismantle the case.
Attorneys for most of the women who say they were victims argue that despite never having met each other and living across the country and world, the women all leveled similar allegations against the couple.
Last year, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones denied the Orange County District Attorney’s request to toss out all the charges, refusing to sign off on what the judge called a “back-room dismissal” without the alleged victims having their day in court, and expressing concern that the case had been “infected” by politics.
Attorney Matt Murphy, who is representing several of the couple’s accusers, questioned whether the State Attorney General’s Office, which primarily handles appellate cases, could handle a complex sexual assault trial. Murphy has urged the judge to assign the case to a special prosecutor.
“We are here again, faced with another prosecutorial agency attempting to dismiss charges without ever truly listening to the victims,” Murphy wrote in a motion that was temporarily made public but has since been sealed.
State prosecutors assigned to the case have defended themselves by noting that they have experience handling sex crimes while previously working for local DA’s offices.
Source: Orange County Register