Attorneys involved in legal wrangling over a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women, will meet next month to discuss a request to put a civil lawsuit against the pair on hold until their criminal case is resolved.
The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims she was drugged and raped by Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley. The pair have vehemently denied any criminal wrongdoing.
Robicheaux and Riley are facing criminal charges over the alleged attacks, with Robicheaux charged in connection with seven alleged victims, and Riley charged with five. Orange County prosecutors have requested to drop the criminal case, citing a lack of evidence, with a hearing set for April 3.
While the criminal case remains in limbo, an attorney representing four other women who claim to be victims of Robicheaux and Riley — but not the plaintiff in the lawsuit — asked a judge this week to put the civil case on hold pending a final decision on the dismissal of criminal charges.
The women’s attorney, Matt Murphy, a retired Orange County prosecutor, said his clients have complained they were being hassled by investigators working for the defense team in the civil case. Murphy said his clients 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.
Three of Murphy’s four clients are alleged victims in the criminal case. The fourth opted to stay out of the criminal case to prevent her parents from learning about her involvement. But Murphy said when investigators kept coming around to question her mother and father, the woman finally had to tell them about what happened between her and the defendants.
Attorney Mark Austin, who represents that woman’s best friend, also objected to her having to sit for a deposition in the civil case.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm this week did not rule on the request to put the civil case on hold, but he ordered the various attorneys to “meet and confer,” a process that encourages them to resolve their differences outside court. The attorneys were ordered to meet on March 20, ahead of another hearing in the civil case set for April 14.
Schwarm noted the defendants have the right to mount a defense in the civil case. But he acknowledged he was unaware of many of the issues Murphy and Austin had raised until Tuesday’s hearing.
In court Tuesday, Robicheaux’s and Riley’s attorney, Thomas Ferlauto, accused Murphy of “blindsiding” him with “allegations of witness tampering.”
Murphy said defense investigators have used “really aggravating, obnoxious tactics … like something from a bad movie” when approaching the alleged victims and their families and friends.
Tempers often flared during the hearing, with Schwarm admonishing the attorneys to stop interrupting each other. When the attorneys were walking out of the courtroom during a break in the hearing, Murphy — believing Ferlauto was glaring at him — said, “What? You want to fight?”
Attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents the plaintiff in the civil case, said he had attempted to have the case put on hold last year at the request of prosecutors in the criminal matter. The request was initially granted, but Schwarm lifted the stay about a month later.
“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’ criminal-case attorneys have used the pending lawsuit to accumulate evidence.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer pointed to statements his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, made during a deposition in the lawsuit to justify his request to have the criminal charges against Robicheaux and Riley dismissed.
Spitzer claims 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.
Philip 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 might help his civil suit, saying a criminal-defense attorney in general might not be experienced in conducting depositions in civil matters.
“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 (in the civil case).”
Gilleon lamented that the cases have devolved into “mudslinging and politics.” He said his client will receive greater justice in a civil courtroom, because the standard of proof is lower.
“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?”
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