A judge denied Friday a request by the Orange County District Attorney's Office to drop charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women.
Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones said in February he needed more time to consider a request by prosecutors to drop charges against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32. Attorneys for the accusers want Jones to assign the case to the attorney general, who can take over the prosecution or hand it off to a special prosecutor.
"The public's confidence pursuing justice would be severely undermined if the District Attorney continues on the matter," Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones said.
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Jones added that it was his "obligation to ensure integrity of all prosecutions," but that no one has filed a motion to recuse the District Attorney, which is seeking dismissal of the case.
If the District Attorney's Office is recused, then the case would be assigned to the state Attorney General's Office, which could keep the case or assign it to a special prosecutor.
"This is a great day for victims of crimes," said attorney Michael Fell, who represents one of the alleged victims in the case. "It shows that Marsy's Law is alive, that Marsy's Law is respected, and that victims are able to have their voices heard."
Defense attorney Philip Cohen demanded a preliminary hearing, but Jones noted that the defense has waived its right to a speedy preliminary hearing multiple times in the case, so the standard now is to schedule it in a "reasonable time" period, not within 60 days of charges being filed.
Prosecutors had filed a brief, saying they do not take the request "lightly," and added, they "are acutely aware of the gravity of this request and the pain it may cause the alleged victims." But prosecutors say "the evidence in this case falls short of the level needed to meet the people's constitutionally required burden of proof of each and every element of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt."
In court Friday morning, the judge said he has concerns about the district attorney continuing to handle the case and that public confidence would be undermined if that office continues in the prosecution.
Prosecutors say the couple "engaged in a swinger lifestyle and openly pursued scores of women for consensual sexual encounters."
It's a sharp contrast from when prosecutors filed charges in the case as the two were characterized as sexual predators who used their good looks to lure unsuspecting women before drugging and raping the victims in the doctor's Newport Beach home.
Prosecutors now allege that some of the victims have told investigators at times that they had consensual sex with the two. One alleged victim has a "history of manufacturing events and a documented instance of giving false information," prosecutors said.
Another victim snorted about 15 lines of cocaine that she was aware was "laced with ketamine" before waking up to a nude Robicheaux "spooning her," prosecutors alleged. She refused to undergo a sexual assault exam, prosecutors said.
Charges were filed when Tony Rackauckas was the county's district attorney, and it became a heated political issue during the 2018 election as current District Attorney Todd Spitzer criticized Rackauckas' handling of the case.
Spitzer initially backed prosecutors on the case after he was sworn in, but he grew more concerned about it as evidence came out of civil litigation in which an alleged victim is suing the doctor and his girlfriend. Spitzer contends that Rackauckas and his former chief of staff used the case for publicity during his re-election bid, prompting Spitzer to ask the Attorney General's Office to consider taking over the case as he felt it had become too politicized in his office.
The Attorney General's Office said any conflict was cured by Spitzer's election and declined to take over the case.
Spitzer then reassigned two new prosecutors to the case whose sole job was going over all of the evidence. That review convinced Spitzer that he did not have evidence to proceed further and asked Jones to dismiss charges.