An Orange County Superior Court judge denied he had an inappropriate private meeting with an attorney that would disqualify him from presiding over a case involving a Newport Beach physician and his girlfriend, who are charged with rapping and drugging several women, according to court records obtained Wednesday.
In an affidavit filed June 22, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones said he had an “inconsequential discussion” with attorney Matthew Murphy, who was representing two alleged victims in the case as a victims’ rights attorney.
Attorneys for defendants Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32, have filed a motion to recuse Jones from the case based on Murphy’s private meeting with Jones on Feb. 6, a day before prosecutors attempted to convince the judge to dismiss charges against the defendants.
Last month, Jones refused to dismiss the case and was considering a motion to recuse District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office from prosecuting the case when the recusal motion was brought.
Jones said he had an “extremely busy” calendar of cases at the time with 109 scheduled for Feb. 7, so he was considering whether another judge needed to take over the rest of his cases for the day if the hearing to dismiss charges would be a lengthy one.
“I was concerned about how the motion would impact my schedule,” Jones said in his affidavit. “I had no idea how long the oral motion would take, if all parties received proper notice, or if victims would appear and want to make statements. I have presided over victim impact hearings that have taken several hours. I was considering trying to transfer my Feb. 7 misdemeanor calendar to another judge.”
Jones said his clerk, Tina Hauck, told him on Feb. 6 that Murphy was in court filing a motion to withdraw as attorney for one of the alleged victims. He has since returned to being her attorney.
Jones said he could not recall whether he asked for the private hearing, or if Murphy did.
“During my conversation with Mr. Murphy, we did not discuss the merits,” Jones said. “We only addressed Mr. Murphy’s withdrawal and my scheduling concerns about the hearing on Feb. 7. I do not recall the exact words said during the inconsequential discussion over four months ago. I did ask if Mr. Murphy would attend the hearing, and because it had only just been scheduled, I informed him that the hearing was at 9. I may have asked if there would be victim impact statements, so I could arrange for another judge to handle my calendar.”
Jones recalled the discussion lasting about 5 minutes, but no longer than 10 minutes. The judge said he had his clerk record the hearing in the court record, but in hindsight, “I realize I could have more clearly disclosed the discussion, and indicated that I had granted the withdrawal request, and had asked about scheduling to be sure the hearing would not interfere with my calendar.”
Jones said he has no “personal relationship with Mr. Murphy, and have never socialized with him.”
Jones said as far as he can remember, Murphy appeared before him once on a probation violation case “several years ago,” and he denied that he is “biased or prejudiced” in the case.
Jones’ attorney, Jeffrey Wertheimer, further argued in court papers that the attorneys for the defendants filed their motion to disqualify the judge too late. The law requires a timely motion to disqualify, but the defense attorneys failed to raise any issues in subsequent hearings since February.
Defense attorneys claim that Jones “implored” Murphy to be at the Feb. 7 hearing and that the private meeting at least indicated an appearance of impropriety.
The case has been troubled by claims it was politicized by Spitzer and his predecessor Tony Rackauckas during their election battle.
“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 Rackauckas, is troubling,” the defense attorneys wrote.