An attorney representing victims in the case against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend, who are charged with drugging and raping multiple women, defended his lawsuit Tuesday as another attorney representing victims asked a judge to put the civil matter on hold until there is a resolution in the criminal case.
Attorney Matthew Murphy, a retired longtime Orange County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor, who now represents four women who claim they were victimized by Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend Cerise Riley, asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm to put the case on pause while the criminal case remains active.
Schwarm ordered the attorneys to “meet and confer,” a process that encourages them to resolve their differences outside of a hearing, on March 20 before another status hearing on April 14.
Murphy called into question how the case was being managed as his clients complained they were being hassled by investigators working for the defense. Murphy argued they don’t want to be part of the lawsuit, so they shouldn’t have to submit to subpoenas for depositions.
“It is outrageous they’ve used this process to go after these women,” Murphy said.
One of Murphy’s clients wished to stay out of the criminal case to spare her parents knowing about her involvement, but when investigators kept coming around to question her mother and father she finally had to tell them about what happened between her and the defendants, Murphy said.
Attorney Mark Austin, who represents the best friend of the woman, also objected to her having to sit for a deposition.
Schwarm, however, noted the defendants in the case have a right to defend themselves and that much of the issue had previously been litigated in his courtroom regarding the seven victims in the criminal complaint.
Murphy said there is still an issue regarding the other alleged victims, who could theoretically be used as witnesses in a trial if prosecutors wished to try to establish a pattern of behavior.
Schwarm also acknowledged he was unaware of many of the issues Murphy and Austin had raised until Tuesday’s hearing.
Robicheaux’s and Riley’s attorney, Thomas Ferlauto, said if the plaintiff’s attorney did not wish to use the victim in question as a witness in the civil suit then her best friend would not have to sit for a deposition. Ferlauto, however, said the attorney, Dan Gilleon, would not agree to that.
Murphy claimed he has repeatedly tried to contact Gilleon to no avail.
Ferlauto accused Murphy of “blindsiding” him with “allegations of witness tampering.”
Tempers flared often in the hearing with Schwarm admonishing the attorneys to stop interrupting each other and with Murphy saying, “You want to fight” to Ferlauto as he glared at him while they were exiting the courtroom.
Murphy said the defense investigators have used “really aggravating, obnoxious tactics… like something from a bad movie” when approaching the victims and their families and friends.
Gilleon, who represents plaintiff Danielle Bajec, said he attempted to have the case put on hold earlier at the request of prosecutors.
“We filed a motion. We won in part and lost in part,” Gilleon told City News Service. “The court didn’t do this on a whim. The court had several hearings on this and was thoroughly informed what the law was. He didn’t just hip-shoot this thing.”
Usually, criminal defendants are the ones who seek to pause a civil suit, said Gilleon, who acknowledged the defendants’ attorneys have used the civil suit to accumulate evidence in the criminal case.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer has pointed to statements his predecessor Tony Rackauckas made during depositions in Bajec’s suit to justify his attempt to have the charges dismissed.
Spitzer has argued Rackauckas and his former chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder admitted they used publicity in the case to help Rackauckas’ re-election campaign, an accusation Rackauckas denies.
Phillip Cohen, who represents the defendants in the criminal case, led depositions of Rackauckas and Schroeder in the civil suit, which is unusual, Gilleon said. But Gilleon did not object because he felt it would help his civil suit since he perceived Cohen as less skilled than a civil attorney.
“Our case is about one thing and his case is about another so he doesn’t know how to ask questions in a way that was useful,” Gilleon said. “I don’t think he got any information that was helpful.”
Gilleon lamented that the cases have devolved into “mudslinging and politics,” and he argued that his client will receive greater justice in a civil courtroom because the standard of proof is lower and the compensation is money.
“In reality, only the civil justice system provides any measure of compensation or control to the victims,” Gilleon said. “In a criminal case a victim is only a witness. She gets nothing out of it except harassment and behind-the-scenes investigations.
“Would you rather be deposed across a table and see their eyes or rather have them do it behind your back and talking to your neighbors?”
Robicheaux and Riley are charged with drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims they allegedly met at social gatherings. Robicheaux is charged in connection with seven alleged victims, while Riley is charged with five. They have both continued to maintain their innocence.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Greg Jones is weighing whether to grant a motion by prosecutors to drop the charges. The next hearing in the case is April 3. Murphy filed a motion last week arguing the case could be turned over to a special prosecutor or the state Attorney General’s Office.
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