Orange County Judge Expected to Rule Next Week in Doctor Rape Case

Newport Beach doctor and girlfriend arraigned on rape charges

Photo: MediaNews Group RM

SANTA ANA (CNS) - An Orange County Superior Court judge said he expects to rule late next week on a request from prosecutors to reduce charges against a Newport Beach hand surgeon and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and raping multiple women.

In a daylong hearing Thursday, Judge Frank Ospino heard arguments from attorneys for the victims and defendants as well as the prosecutors.

Ospino said he expected to issue his ruling next Thursday.

The case against Robicheaux, 40, and Riley, 34, has been reassigned to Ospino, a former Orange County public defender, following the surprise decision by Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg to recuse himself.

Thursday, one alleged victim told Ospino she was “exhausted'' by the twists and turns in the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley over the past three years, including the recent surprise decision by Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg to recuse himself.

“This case is a complete travesty,'' the woman told the judge.

She accused defense team investigators of “harassing'' her and her family.

“I'm exhausted because I've already begged another judge to not dismiss my case,'' she said, referring to her statement to a previous judge overseeing it.

She said she told the defendants she did not want to have sex with them, “But somehow that's not enough evidence. It doesn't make sense.''

The woman said prosecutors have indicated there are “holes in my case,'' but that they have not interviewed her about her complaint.

“I'm also enraged that seven rape victims cannot find a prosecutor in Orange County or the state who have the audacity to try a serial rapist,'' the woman said.

Prosecutors with the state Attorney General's Office had indicated to Bromberg they wanted to reduce charges to just one alleged victim in the case, but told Ospino that they have decided to narrow it down to two victims instead.

The case was reassigned to the Attorney General's Office last year after Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones refused Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer's request to dismiss the case and cited the politics interjected into the case in a tense election between Spitzer and his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas.

Robicheaux is charged in connection with five alleged victims, and Riley is charged in connection with three alleged victims. There are a total of 13 accusers, some of whom could be used by prosecutors as further evidence of a pattern of behavior.

If Ospino refuses the motion to reduce charges it could prompt the Attorney General's Office to declare it cannot go forward with the case, clearing the way for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

Ospino spent a good portion of the day Thursday focusing on explosive allegations in a motion filed by attorney Matt Murphy, a retired Orange County prosecutor who represents five accusers in the case.

Since the state prosecutors took over the case, “none of the victims have recanted, no alibi witnesses have appeared, and all six women represented by Marsy's Law counsel are still desirous of prosecution,'' Murphy said in a June 4 filing.

“From the victims' perspective, responsibility for the contentious nature of this litigation lies squarely with a district attorney who continues to place his own political self-interests above the rules of ethics and the rights of victims,'' wrote Murphy.

Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, brushed off Murphy's criticism.

“Mr. Murphy continues to make unfounded allegations in this case,'' Edds said. “Instead of his spurious, self-serving declarations, we look forward to hearings under oath in a court of law.''

Murphy faulted the Attorney General's Office for “a series of errors (well-intentioned as they may have been),'' in the case.

Murphy, who prosecuted some of Orange County's best-known cases such as the serial killer Rodney Alcala, said the Attorney General's Office, which has done a good job in the case involving appeals, has failed in the prosecution since taking it over.

Murphy argued that the Attorney General's Office prosecutors “have placed themselves in a position where the appointment of a special prosecutor has now become necessary.''

Murphy asked Bromberg to refuse to let prosecutors dismiss charges in the case, leaving the Attorney General's Office unable to proceed and requiring the appointment of a special prosecutor.

That is what happened last year when Jones refused Spitzer's move to dump the case, leaving Spitzer's prosecutors to declare they could not ethically go forward.

But even though Spitzer's office is off the case, Murphy said, “In short, Mr. Spitzer, it seems, simply cannot let this case go.''

Spitzer, Murphy argued, “has continued to burst through any `ethical screen' that may have been erected, and the Attorney General, it seems, has provided Mr. Spitzer a welcome, if reluctant, audience.''

Spitzer forbade his office's investigator, Jennifer Kearns, from speaking with the Attorney General's Office without her supervisor present. Kearns has since filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the county.

Then Spitzer placed Kearns on a “Brady List,'' which is for law enforcement accused of allegations of mishandling the transfer of evidence to defense attorneys as required by law, Murphy said. That was done even though Jones “cleared her of any wrongdoing'' in the case, Murphy said.

The attorney said the move was made “in the obvious hope this would further influence the attorney general's review'' of the case.

Murphy also accused Spitzer of “repeatedly contacting the Attorney General's Office'' about the case despite his office's disqualification from it.

Spitzer “then withheld discovery from the Attorney General's Office for several months, and what had been provided was sent over in an `unorganized fashion,' '' Murphy said.

When one victim filed a complaint against Spitzer with the state bar, Spitzer “again contacted the Attorney General's Office and informed them he would now make himself available to the defense to impeach the credibility of the complaining victim,'' Murphy said.

Murphy also accused Spitzer on May 25 of directing Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh to “draft'' a letter to Bromberg “in the hope of influencing his decision regarding the pending motion'' to reduce charges.

Baytieh refused, advising his boss it would be “improper,'' Murphy alleged.

Deputy Attorney General Mary Strickland said her office has done an “exhaustive'' review of the case. She said her office dedicated four prosecutors who mostly worked just on this case for about a year, which she said was “unheard of.''

Strickland said the prosecutors were “unanimous'' in concluding that they did not have enough evidence to prove cases “beyond a reasonable doubt'' for all but two of the alleged victims.

Deputy Attorney General Yvette Martinez said her office received a large volume of evidence from Spitzer's prosecutors in “unorganized fashion,'' they decided to go to the source and get all of the same evidence from the forensics crime lab that handled the phone and video evidence in the first place.

Murphy said the Attorney General's Office has not contacted the two original Orange County District Attorney's Office prosecutors on the case, Kearns or another OCDA investigator assigned to the case or a detective from Newport Beach police who worked on it. But Martinez said they did meet with the Newport Beach detective.

Strickland denied that Spitzer had any impact on their decision.

“I'm not sure I would recognize him if I saw him on the street,'' Strickland said.

Ospino said he was not put off by any contact the Attorney General's Office had with Spitzer's Office while taking over the case, but he wanted to know more about an allegation that Spitzer called state prosecutors and said he would make himself a witness for the defense attorneys in the case because one of their accusers had filed a complaint about Spitzer with the state bar.

Spitzer told Julie Garland of the Attorney General's Office that he felt he needed to tell her about it because he wanted to question the woman's credibility, which would aid the defense, Garland said.

The woman told Ospino that all she did was file a complaint with the state bar that contained a copy of Jones' ruling disqualifying Spitzer's Office from the case.

Strickland noted that Murphy knew about Spitzer's call because her office told him and defense attorneys about it, which Murphy confirmed.

Strickland said her office is willing to continue the prosecution, but not with all of the charges originally filed.

“There is no justification to support an appointment of a special prosecutor,'' Strickland said.

Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who represents Robicheaux, argued for the right of prosecutors to amend the complaint. Cohen said the attorneys for the alleged victims only objected to the Attorney General's Office when it decided to narrow the complaint.

Previously, Robicheaux was charged in connection with seven victims and Riley with five, but Bromberg granted a motion from prosecutors to dismiss charges related to two victims before he recused himself from the case last month.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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