An Orange County Superior Court judge, who was criticized by defense attorneys for allegedly mistreating attorneys on both sides of a high profile criminal proceeding, has recused himself from the case involving a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend who are accused of drugging and raping several women.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg abruptly withdrew from the case Friday, according to court records. Bromberg also denied a motion to disqualify as untimely and repudiated allegations he was unfair.
Attorneys for Dr. Grant Robicheaux, a 40-year-old hand surgeon, and 34-year-old Cerissa Riley had filed a motion on July 20 seeking to have Bromberg disqualified following several court hearings featuring sharp exchanges between the judge and prosecutors.
Bromberg noted that the motion to disqualify was filed five weeks after a June 11 hearing that provides much of the fodder for the move to kick him off the case. He said his “expressions of opinion and comments on the Peoples motion (to reduce charges) and defendant’s brief form no basis for the court’s disqualification.”
Bromberg explained he was reacting to the prosecution’s move to dismiss charges related to five victims without offering “sufficient basis or any supporting evidence… The court’s comments were part of its attempt to understand the basis and merits of the motion to dismiss; they were not based on bias or prejudice. Nothing in the record indicates the court has predetermined the merits of the motion or made any fixed anticipatory judgment of issues in this proceeding.”
Bromberg added, however, that he recused himself “on the basis that the court believes recusal would further the interests of justice. The court categorically denies that is biased or prejudiced against the defendants or attorneys in this case and disagrees with the claim that a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the court is able to be impartial.”
The case was reassigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Frank Ospino, the former Orange County public defender, who will now decide a motion by the California Attorney General’s Office to drastically scale back the criminal charges against the couple to just one victim.
Earlier this month, Bromberg granted a request by prosecutors to dismiss charges related to two alleged rape victims in the case. Both said they no longer wanted to participate, prosecutors said.
In the written defense motion, attorneys cited a heated June exchange where the judge questioned whether the prosecutors were capable of handling the case, saying there were “probably not a lot of sexual assault cases up there” in Marin County where one had previously worked.
The defense attorneys also argued that Bromberg made critical remarks about the defense team’s attorney, Philip Cohen, saying the judge demonstrated bias against Cohen by saying he had misstated the law and misstated the facts of the case, which is “an assertion of intentional malfeasance against Robicheaux’s attorney made in front of the press and the public.
“Such bias, whether real or apparent, absolutely precludes these defendants from reaching the appearance of a fair hearing or a fair trial before this judge,” the defense motion stated.
The case was initially filed in 2018 by then-Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, accusing Robicheaux and Riley of meeting women at restaurants and bars in Newport Beach before drugging them and luring them to the doctor’s apartment to sexually assault them.
Robicheaux, who appeared on a 2014 episode of Bravo’s “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male,” and Riley have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Current Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer later said there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with the case and accused Rackauckas, a political rival, of mishandling the investigation, describing Robicheaux and Riley as swingers whose sexual encounters and drug use was consensual.
Prosecutors have previously said they wanted to narrow the charges down to one alleged victim.
In May, the state Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case from the Orange County district attorney in 2020, filed a motion asking for dismissal of 10 charges involving six of the seven alleged victims.
“We have no reason to believe that any of these victims are being untruthful,” but a review found that some allegations couldn’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, state prosecutors said.
As it stands, Robicheaux faces charges involving five alleged victims and Riley for three alleged victims. The next hearing in the case is set for Aug. 13.