SANTA ANA (CNS) - Defense attorneys for a Newport Beach hand surgeon and his girlfriend, who are charged with kidnapping and raping several women, today requested an evidentiary hearing focused on a reality TV show that former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas pitched regarding Orange County cases.
The case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley is featured prominently in a “sizzle reel'' that District Attorney Todd Spitzer began sending to defense attorneys earlier this month to comply with the so-called Brady law governing the exchange of evidence from prosecutors to defense lawyers.
Spitzer said in the letter dated July 14 that shortly after he unseated Rackauckas in November 2018, he was contacted by Warner Bros., which was pitching a TV show titled “OC Justice,'' which centered around cases in the District Attorney's Office.
The reel featured Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown discussing the case against Hossein Nayeri, who is charged with participating in a daring escape from the Orange County Jail and has been convicted of abducting and sexually mutilating a marijuana dispensary owner.
Former “Real Housewives of Orange County'' cast member Lauri Peterson is shown discussing the attempted murder case against her son Josh Waring, who has since pleaded guilty and was released from jail with a sentence of time served.
The reel also highlights the case against local thespian Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who is on death row for the dismemberment murder of a Costa Mesa veteran and the killing of the victim's friend, and shows retired Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy discussing some of his cases and his surfing hobby.
The PowerPoint presentation accompanying the reel pitches the show as “True crime meets reality in the country's most glamorous zip code... Beneath the beauty lies a dark truth.''
Spitzer said in the letter that he had no interest in participating in the show, but only recently was able to acquire the sizzle reel and sent it to defense attorneys because he “had a concern that the OCDA may have discovery responsibilities in many matters featured in the video'' and the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied it.
Robicheaux and Riley's attorneys said in a motion filed Tuesday that the sizzle reel reveals ethical lapses and calls into question Murphy's claim as an attorney now representing several alleged victims in their clients' case that he did not socialize with Rackauckas and was not motivated to derail Spitzer's intent to dismiss charges out of loyalty to the former D.A.
The attorneys also argue that the sizzle reel bolsters their argument that Rackauckas' claim at one news conference that the duo could have sexually assaulted up to 1,000 victims was no slip of the tongue, but ended up being a selling point for the unscripted show.
Their motion states that after Spitzer assigned new prosecutors to the case, they found no evidence to back up a claim that there were videos of the pair sexually assaulting hundreds of victims.
“Indeed, after a two-month long review of videos, the finding of these two career prosecutors was that there was no video evidence of any crimes, sex-related or otherwise,'' the motion reads. “The discovery of this sizzle reel ... represents tangible proof that, while in office, Mr. Rackauckas, (his chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder) and Mr. Murphy were motivated not just by a sense of justice, but by a financial, personal, and self-indulgent desire for media fame and fortune.''
The defense attorneys, who are also attempting to have Orange County Superior Court Judge Greg Jones recused from the case, say the new evidence backs up their questioning of Jones' brief meeting with Murphy before a hearing in which Spitzer unsuccessfully attempted to have Jones dump the charges.
Spitzer has argued a review of the case showed there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges. Jones denied the motion and was considering assigning the case to the state Attorney General's Office before defense attorneys moved to recuse him.
Jones has characterized the meeting with Murphy as relatively innocuous and that he wanted to know if there would be victim impact statements at the hearing because if there were, then he might have to assign the rest of his caseload for the day to another judge.
But the defense attorneys say Murphy told prosecutors that Jones “implored'' him to attend the hearing on the motion to dismiss charges. They argue it shows at least an appearance of bias.
Murphy told City News Service that Spitzer released the video as a distraction.
“Mr. Spitzer will apparently try anything to draw attention away from his treatment of the victims in the Robicheaux case,'' Murphy said. “The video in question was produced and possessed by an outside media organization pursuant to their First Amendment rights. There is nothing even remotely exculpatory contained on that tape.
“In Mr. Spitzer's accompanying letter, he actually cites his confused mother-in-law as a reason to track it down and discovered it to the defense. Fortunately, there is no such standard under the law. All he is doing is creating further anxiety for the innocent victims in those cases before yet another court rolls its eyes at Mr. Spitzer.''
Spitzer fired back, “I'm deeply disappointed that Mr. Murphy and the former OCDA's office would traffic victims for their own financial gain and potential TV stardom. Mr. Murphy left the office to pursue a TV career and it's clear his motivation all along was to exploit victims for his own financial gain.''
Murphy has a contract with ABC as a legal consultant and also has his own private practice.
Rackauckas told City News Service he never pitched the show and considered it the same as cooperating with any news-driven program focusing on his office.
“I didn't pitch a reality TV show or any other show,'' Rackauckas said. “I always agreed to do things that would help the District Attorney's Office show it at work, the good work of the deputies, investigators and police in solving and prosecuting crime.''
Rackauckas said it was common for prosecutors in his office to appear on news programs and documentaries.
“There was never any contract or offer of a contract or exchange of money or anything like that,'' he said.
Murphy argued in a motion filed earlier this month that Spitzer has been colluding with defense attorney Philip Cohen to drop the case.
“For the past two years, I have been ridiculed for insisting that the filing and handling of Grant's case was motivated by something other than the evidence,'' Cohen said. “While it has been clear for some time that one of those motivators was Mr. Rackauckas' need to drum up buzz for his re-election campaign, who would have guessed that the other was Mr. Rackauckas' dream to turn himself and Mr. Murphy into reality TV stars.''
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