An Orange County judge declined Friday to immediately rule on a request by prosecutors to drop charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women, saying he wants to review the case in more depth.
Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones said he was troubled by the political overtones of the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32.
"Politics have infected this case," Jones told the attorneys during the hearing, referencing the back-and-forth jawing between District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who wants the case dropped, and his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, who originated the charges.
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Jones gave prosecutors and defense attorneys until March 19 to file written arguments on the proposed dismissal, and also asked for written copies of statements from two alleged victims who continue to assert they were sexually assaulted by the defendants.
Robicheaux and Riley are charged with drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims they allegedly met at social gatherings. Robicheaux is charged in connection with seven alleged victims, while Riley is charged with five. They have both continued to maintain their innocence.
Jones scheduled another hearing for April 3.
Spitzer held a news conference Tuesday to announce his plan to drop charges against Robicheaux and Riley, claiming the case was used for political gain by Rackauckas during his re-election campaign. Spitzer also insisted a review of the case by top prosecutors in his office found no concrete evidence that could prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
"There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted. Not one," Spitzer said.
When the charges were announced in 2018, Rackauckas described the defendants as swingers who would take advantage of their good looks to meet women in social settings, then drug them and take them home, where they were sexually assaulted.
Rackauckas claimed investigators found thousands of videos depicting the pair's activities, and suggested there might be hundreds of alleged victims.
In court Friday, statements were read from two alleged victims. Robicheaux and Riley, however, did not hear the statements, because they left the courtroom and returned when the statements were finished.
One woman, in a statement read by her attorney, Michael Fell, said, "I had never met the defendant before I found myself drugged and in their home the next morning."
The woman implored other sexual assault victims to report what happened to authorities no matter what happens in this case.
"Just because my case got dropped doesn't mean yours will," she said.
Another woman said in her statement she was a law student when she was sexually assaulted by Robicheaux. She said she did not report it to authorities because she worried it would affect her career aspirations and out of concern for how it would affect her parents.
When she saw news of the defendants' arrest in September 2018, she said she felt guilty she hadn't come forward earlier. She said she felt "shock, horror, numb."
The woman said defense attorneys then began harassing her, her parents and her friends, with private investigators repeatedly calling her and showing up at her office. She said the questioning of her parents finally prompted her to tell them what happened. She said one of her friends was forced to sit for a three-hour deposition in a civil case in which she was asked by the criminal defense attorney about her sexual habits.
She also criticized Spitzer for giving her only 10 minutes notice of his Tuesday news conference in which he announced his intent to seek dismissal of charges.
Prior to Friday's hearing, Robicheaux and Riley spoke to ABC News, saying they were shocked when the charges were filed against them, denying they committed any crimes and insisting their lives were thrown into turmoil by the allegations.
"Within about an hour, my whole life was ripped away from me," Robicheaux said. "I was fired from every hospital. I was suspended from my career, my practice."
He said the couple are "still in shock. Still can't believe this has happened to us."
The surgeon said news that charges might be dropped against them felt like a chance to "get your life back."
"(You're a) dead person walking, and now a breath of life is breathed back into you," he said.
Robicheaux once appeared on a TV reality show called "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male."
The pair's arrest and announcement of charges made national headlines, given the sensational nature of the case.
While announcing plans to drop the case on Tuesday, Spitzer pointed to comments made by Rackauckas during a recent deposition in a lawsuit stemming from the case, in which the former district attorney conceded that he anticipated getting publicity by announcing the charges during his re-election campaign.
"After the depositions, I was freaked out," Spitzer said. "I was very disturbed. I have the former elected and sworn district attorney of Orange County admitting that this case was used for campaign purposes."
Rackauckas told City News Service that while he conceded that the case was expected to generate publicity, he did not approve the filing of charges to boost his re-election campaign.
Rackauckas said he was "very concerned that Todd's latest stunt will deter future sexual assault victims from coming forward."
Rackauckas, who lost his re-election bid to Spitzer in November 2018, said his successor "stabbed Marsy's Law in the guts," referring to the state law that gives victims more say in criminal proceedings.
"My heart goes out to the women who had the courage to come forward and report a sexual assault and I hope that they are able to heal," Rackauckas said.
Jones, the judge, said in court Friday the politicization of the case "is a toxic cocktail, and that's the problem here."
Jones, who was the magistrate who signed off on a search warrant at the beginning of the case, said he wished to make an "intelligent, meaningful" ruling.
Spitzer said his office is probing the role an investigator in his office played in the writing of the search warrant affidavit that Jones originally signed. This week, attorneys in a civil suit filed against the defendants won a motion to depose District Attorney's Office investigator Jennifer Kearns.
Spitzer insisted that he personally backed off from the investigation after assigning it to deputy district attorneys Rick Zimmer and Karyn Stokke. Zimmer assured Jones there was "zero pressure on us" to make a recommendation either way on the case.
Zimmer and Stokke said they spent months going over huge volumes of evidence, which led them to believe they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants intentionally incapacitated the victims to sexually assault them.
Philip Cohen, attorney for Robicheaux and Riley, insisted in court, "There's a complete lack of evidence to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt."