The high-profile case of the Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend accused of working together to serially lure, drug and rape several women has been taken out of the Orange County district attorney’s hands.
The state attorney general’s office will take over prosecution for the case of Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones ruled Thursday.
Jones said that any prosecutor in District Atty. Todd Spitzer’s office who won the case would be in a position of making his boss look “foolish” for saying the case could not be prosecuted. And any prosecutor who did not “vigorously” pursue guilty pleas would leave themselves open to discipline from the state bar.
“I have serious questions about the district attorney’s ability to prosecute this case at this point,” the judge said. “I think they are hopelessly conflicted.”
It was the ultimate outcome Spitzer had long wanted. He first directly sought to have the case transfer to the state a year ago because of how his predecessor Tony Rackauckas had handled the sensational case during the 2018 election season.
Spitzer asked the state to take over the case in September 2019 because of statements Rackauckas made in depositions for a related civil suit filed by an accuser, in which the former D.A. said he expected the publicity surrounding the case to be beneficial to his campaign. The lurid story line picked up media attention worldwide.
However, the state declined Spitzer’s request, saying that any conflict was moot because he had replaced Rackauckas. So Spitzer put two new prosecutors on the case, and a three-month review showed insufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution, Spitzer argued.
But when county prosecutors sought earlier this year to have the charges dropped altogether, Jones declined to dismiss the charges in favor of presenting them to a jury.
Though Spitzer and the defense have argued that Rackauckas ginned up heavy and embellished pretrial publicity fueled by his desire to be reelected, that cannot be a factor in the decision, the judge repeatedly told the lawyers at a February hearing.
So Spitzer asked Jones, who recently survived his own disqualification attempt by the defense on the grounds that he was preferential to a victim’s rights attorney, to refer the case to the state, and Jones agreed.
In a statement Thursday, Spitzer said he was confident that the state A.G. will be fair and just.
“When the attorney general ordered my office to keep the case [in 2019], it was then and only then that a complete reevaluation of the case revealed a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
“A lack of admissible evidence does not mean that a crime was not committed; it means we lack the evidence to meet our legal burden in a court of law. Without sufficient evidence to prove the filed charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the Orange County district attorney’s office is ethically prohibited from moving forward with this prosecution.”
Robicheaux, 39, is an orthopedic surgeon and a onetime reality-TV personality who is facing 17 felony charges, including five counts of rape. His girlfriend Riley, 33, faces three counts of rape among 13 charges in connection with assaults that previous prosecutors alleged took place in Robicheaux’s Balboa Peninsula home. They deny accusations of non-consensual sex.
Both could face life in prison if convicted as charged.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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