SANTA ANA (CNS) - An Orange County Superior Court judge may decide today whether to grant a request by prosecutors to gut a criminal case against a Newport Beach hand surgeon and his girlfriend alleging the sexual assaults of at least seven women.
The politically tinged case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 40, and Cerissa Laura Riley, 34, has been troubled from the beginning when it was filed in the heat of the campaign between then-Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Todd Spitzer, who defeated him in November.
The case became a political football as Spitzer criticized how Rackauckas handled it -- and ultimately, when Spitzer sought to dismiss charges against the defendant, it instead led to Spitzer's office being removed from the case.
Now the Attorney General's Office, which has taken over prosecution of the case, has asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg to amend the complaint against the pair to include just one sexual assault case involving one of the seven charged victims.
At a hearing last month, Bromberg asked the prosecutors to provide more information to him about how they arrived at that decision.
Bromberg could dish off the case to a special prosecutor under the legal theory that the Attorney General's Office is “abandoning'' a case in which the defendants still have not had a preliminary hearing, which would determine whether there was enough evidence to warrant a trial.
The couple's defense attorneys have filed a motion arguing that Bromberg should grant the prosecution's request. The defense motion argues that Spitzer's and Attorney General Rob Bonta's offices have conducted reviews of the case and concluded either all or most of the charges should be dropped.
The defense focused in on criticism of District Attorney Investigator Jennifer Kearns' work on the case as it was originally filed. The defense attorneys argue that Kearns was found to have committed “three distinct ethnical and professional violations, including, most notably, the intentional omission of material exculpatory evidence from her written reports.''
They say she left out evidence supporting the defendants' innocence.
The defense also argues that Bromberg's hands are tied and that he cannot deny the motion to amend the complaint unless there is a finding of bias on the part of the Attorney General's Office.
The defense also argues that Bromberg lacks the authority to appoint a special prosecutor as well.
At last month's hearing, Bromberg questioned Deputy Attorney General Yvette Martinez about the rationale in wanting to dismiss most of the drugging and rape charges and reduce felony drug counts to misdemeanor possession.
The case would boil down to assault with the intent to commit a sex offense against one of the seven charged victims, but it would include charges of tainting food or drink and an allegation of ”administering stupefying drugs with the intent to commit rape by intoxication'' without a rape charge.
There is an eighth reputed victim whose allegations are not included in the charges, but would theoretically be used during trial to enhance an argument of a pattern.
Martinez said it wasn't a question of whether her team believes the accusers, but rather it comes down to a determination that they believe they do not have enough evidence to prove their case.
Martinez said her team included four attorneys and two case agents and that it was a “unanimous'' decision to amend the complaint to reduce charges. The prosecutors had three or four conversations with Bonta, who signed off on the decision, she said.
Robicheaux and Riley are charged with drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims they met at social gatherings. Robicheaux, who once appeared on a reality television show called “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male,'' is charged in connection with seven alleged victims, while Riley is charged with five. They have both continued to maintain their innocence.
When the charges were announced in 2018, Rackauckas described the defendants as swingers who allegedly took advantage of their good looks to meet women in social settings, then drugged them and took them home, where they were sexually assaulted.
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