An attorney representing four victims involved in the case against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend, who are charged with drugging and raping several women, Monday denied allegations he had an improper meeting with the judge on the case.
Attorneys for Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32, filed a motion Friday to disqualify Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones just as he was about to rule on whether to recuse the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the case. Jones on June 5 denied the motion to dismiss charges from the District Attorney’s Office.
Matthew Murphy, an attorney for four of the alleged victims, filed a motion Monday saying the move by the defense attorneys “represents the last desperate act of a collaborative effort by (District Attorney Todd) Spitzer and the defense to undermine the rights of eight victims of sexual assault.”
At issue is a private meeting Murphy had with Jones in February and prosecutors before the District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss charges against the defendants because they believed they did not have enough evidence to convict them.
Murphy and attorney Michael Fell, who represents one of the alleged victims, have pushed Jones to reassign the case to the Attorney General’s Office.
Murphy said he met with Jones to let him know he was just notified of the motion from the District Attorney’s Office but needed to withdraw as counsel to the lone alleged victim he represented at the time.
Defense attorneys said evidence shows Jones “essentially implored” Murphy to be present for the hearing in February in which prosecutors planned to dismiss the case. The defense attorneys say the private meeting was unfair and not something extended to any of the other attorneys.
Jones, the defense attorneys argue, should disqualify himself because the meeting indicated at least the appearance of impropriety.
“Given the politics that Judge Jones himself has stated regarding this case, the fact that… the only person Judge Jones agree to see ex parte was an ally of (former District Attorney Tony) Rackauckas, is troubling,” the defense attorneys wrote.
Murphy ridiculed allegations made by defense attorney Scott Borthwick that Murphy, a retired prosecutor, was seen several times at the courthouse where Jones is assigned in Newport Beach last summer.
Murphy noted he had not yet retired last summer.
“With full deference to the usually infallible `Spidey senses’ of Mr. Borthwick, I did not retire from the district attorney in the spring of 2019,” Murphy said, adding he was prosecuting a high-profile trial at the Harbor Justice Center at the time and never encountered Jones then.
Murphy said he never publicly endorsed Rackauckas and has never socialized with him.
Murphy said he reached an understanding with Spitzer that after charges were dismissed that the victims would not continue being harassed by defense attorneys who were also working on a civil case filed by one of the alleged victims against the defendants.
Murphy said that promise was almost immediately broken and that the women continued to be hounded to provide depositions in the civil matter.
Murphy said he told Jones he had an ethical dilemma because he needed to withdraw from representing his client but it was on the eve of the hearing in February in which prosecutors intended to have the case dumped. He intended to continue representing another client, though.
“I requested an in camera hearing,” Murphy said of the private session with Jones. “The purpose of this was to explain the general circumstances, while at the same time walking the fine line of maintaining client confidences. The purpose of requesting an in camera hearing was solely to provide enough information for the court to properly rule on my motion.”
Murphy said Jones said he would grant Murphy’s motion to withdraw from representing one of his clients, but there was no discussion “concerning the parties, the defendants, the evidence, or the substantive merits of the case.”
Murphy said Jones merely told him to be on time for the next day’s hearing.
Murphy said he then had a cordial discussion with Borthwick and told him that he had just withdrawn from representing one of his clients, who he later agreed to represent again.
Murphy asked Borthwick for assurances that the victims “would be able to move on with their lives free from further actions by the defense” if the charges were dropped and Borthwick said he would take it up with the other lawyers on his team.
Murphy claimed Spitzer told him he believed the civil case to be “sham litigation” that defense attorneys were using to attack the credibility of the alleged victims in depositions.
Murphy also claimed Spitzer said he spoke with attorney Philip Cohen and that the defense “agreed to the principles of our discussion” regarding Murphy’s proposal to back off the depositions and subpoenas.
Murphy said he saved a series of text messages with prosecutors he met with and that nothing discussed in that gathering “even hinted at impropriety” with them or the judge.
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