Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer was set Tuesday to make an announcement on a “set of critical developments” in the case against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend charged with drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women.
It’s not clear what Spitzer intends to do with the case against Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, but the case has been bogged down with many legal skirmishes and politics since Spitzer’s predecessor Tony Rackauckas announced charges.
In October, Spitzer revealed that he asked the Attorney General’s Office to consider taking over the case due to a perceived conflict of interest, but state prosecutors said Spitzer could continue working the case.
When Spitzer was running against Rackauckas in 2018 he ripped Rackauckas for playing politics with the case to get publicity for his re-election effort. At one point, the two had dueling news conferences outside of the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on the case.
Attorneys for the defendants criticized prosecutors for not turning over an email from one alleged victim, who said she did not want to proceed with her part in the criminal case because she objected to Spitzer. The woman said she felt Spitzer “used the victims in this case for his own political stunt against” Rackauckas, according to the woman’s email sent in November 2018.
“In my opinion, he is sleazy and not someone I want overseeing our case,” the woman said in the email.
Spitzer said he asked state prosecutors to consider taking over the case because of the complaints from defense attorneys about the politicizing of the case.
“The need to be open to a complete re-evaluation in this case was the result of the deep concerns I had previously expressed publicly about how the case was exploited for re-election purposes by the former district attorney and his chief of staff,” Spitzer said in a statement in October.
Spitzer added he wanted to “ensure that the rights of the victims in this case, as well as the rights of the defendants, are protected as is my duty under the law.”
Senior Deputy District Attorneys Jennifer Walker and Michael Carroll were assigned to the case initially, but were recently replaced by Senior Deputy District Attorneys Rick Zimmer and Karyn Stokke. A source told City News Service it was done to bring fresh eyes to the case.
Another unusual aspect of the case is how a civil suit filed by an alleged victim has created issues in the criminal case. Usually, civil litigation is suspended while a criminal case proceeds, but both the civil suit and criminal case have been proceeding together with one of the defense attorneys conducting depositions in the civil litigation.
Spitzer said he thought some of the statements made in the depositions of Rackauckas and his former chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder were “disturbing and confirmed to me the validity of all the accusations of impropriety that I levied against the former district attorney and his chief of staff.”
Rackauckas told City News Service in October that as defense attorney Philip Cohen grilled him in a deposition the former district attorney acknowledged that hypothetically publicity about the case could have boosted his re-election chances, but he denied using it to help his campaign.
Defense attorneys have argued that Rackauckas during a Sept. 18, 2018, news conference made comments indicating that investigators had “thousands of videos” in evidence that they said showed there could be “hundreds” or “more than a thousand” victims.
However, defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had not observed that number of videos at the time and that none of them show evidence of rapes.
Robicheaux, 39, and Riley, 32, have pleaded not guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims.
Robicheaux is charged in connection with seven victims, while Riley is charged with five.
Prosecutors have contended that the two would take advantage of their good looks to meet women in restaurants or bars, then drug them and lure them back to Robicheaux’s apartment, where they were sexually assaulted.
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