An Orange County Superior Court judge recused himself on Friday from a high-profile criminal case involving a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend accused of drugging and raping a series of women, following allegations the judge had mistreated both defense attorneys and prosecutors during a recent, heated court hearing.
Just weeks before he was expected to decide whether to approve a request by the California Attorney General’s Office to drastically scale back the criminal charges against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven D. Bromberg abruptly withdrew from the the case, court records show.
The judge’s recusal marks the latest twist in a politically-charged case that has drawn international headlines and already seen the removal of local prosecutors and multiple attempts to pare back or drop the charges.
Defense attorneys in a motion filed earlier this month sought to disqualify Judge Bromberg, accusing him of levying personal attacks challenging the “competency, professionalism, and, most disturbingly, the integrity of the various attorneys” involved in the case.
The allegations stemmed from a heated hearing in June where Bromberg sharply questioned whether the prosecutors are capable of trying such a case in Orange County Superior Court, as well as their request to dismiss the bulk of the charges.
The defense attorneys in the written motion to disqualify the judge noted that Bromberg reacted to one of the state prosecutors describing her past experience handling sex crimes in Marin County by saying “probably not a lot of sexual assault cases up there.”
The defense attorneys argued in their motion that the judge’s “mistreatment” of the state prosecutors began after they asked to dismiss the bulk of the charges against Robicheaux and Riley.
“Such bias, whether real or apparent, absolutely precludes these defendants from reaching the appearance of a fair hearing or a fair trial before this judge,” the defense attorneys wrote.
The court records indicating the judge’s recusal did not outline his reasons for leaving the case.
In 2018, then-District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the charges in a nationally-covered news conference, accusing Robicheaux and Riley of meeting women at restaurants and bars in Newport Beach and then drugging them and luring them back to Robicheaux’s apartment to sexually assault them.
Last year, current-District Attorney Todd Spitzer reversed course, announcing that he wanted to dismiss the case after determining there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed. Prosecutors have since described Robicheaux and Riley as swingers who had consensual sexual encounters and drug use.
Attorneys representing most of the women fought back, accusing Spitzer of colluding with the attorneys representing Robicheaux and Riley to sabotage the case.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones refused to sign off on what he described as a “backdoor dismissal” of the case, indicating he believed the women deserved their day in court. Judge Jones then took the rare step of removing local prosecutors from the case and transferring it to the California Attorney General’s Office.
After the AG’s office was put on the case, it was transferred from Jones’ courtroom in Newport Beach to the central courthouse in Santa Ana and subsequently given to Bromberg.
State prosecutors have acknowledged the case has turned into a “political firestorm,” and in recent hearings have told Judge Bromberg that while they aren’t saying they don’t believe the women, they have determined that they cannot prove many of the criminal allegations.
Prosecutors say they want to move forward with allegations tied to one, possibly two, of the original seven alleged victims.
Bromberg earlier this month agreed to dismiss charges related to two of the women who have told prosecutors that they no longer want to be involved in the case after having been “dragged through the mud” and “grossly mistreated.”
Attorneys representing the alleged victims could not immediately be reached late Friday for comment on Judge Bromberg’s recusal.
The case was immediately re-assigned to another judge, Frank Ospino, court records show. But with more than two years worth of filings, motions, legal arguments and court records for the new judge to digest, the move is almost certain to further delay a case that Judge Bromberg referred to not long ago as the “never-ending story.”
Source: Orange County Register